Our monthly online newsletter,"L'ESPACE".
L'ESPACE is a diverse French word that means place,area,cosmos,and gap.
～Offering non-Japanese speaking children learning support and creating a welcoming environment～
In Close Up this month we introduce Kitaku Manabiba Let’s Study. Kitaku Manabiba Let’s Study is a volunteer group offering learning support to children whose native language is not Japanese. The group has been active since March 2015, offering help in school studies and assistance in high school entrance exams, striving to create a welcoming space to children who tend to feel isolated in classrooms due to their limited Japanese language abilities. On this occasion we visited Kitaku NPO・Volunteer Plaza, the base of activities of the group, and spoke with representative, Ms. Masako Edazawa, deputy representative, Mr. Nobuyuki Suzuki, and the main members of the group, Ms. Ikuko Ogawa, Mr. Yuji Saegusa, Mr. Wataru Takano and Ms. Satomi Kishino.
Please tell us what led to the establishment of Kitaku Manabiba Let’s Study.
Both Ms. Edazawa, the current representative, and I, the deputy representative of the group, had been volunteering in Japanese language classes for adults held in Kita Ward. With increasing numbers of children brought to class by foreign residents, in the fall of 2014, Volunteer Plaza organized a series of lectures on the topic of educating the children of foreign learners of Kita Ward. In this series of lectures, Ms. Ogawa, a Japanese language teacher at a junior high school of Kita Ward, was one of the speakers. Following these lectures, steps were taken to organize a group of volunteers to offer learning support to children whose native language is not Japanese, which resulted in Kitaku Manabiba Let’s Study initiating classes in March 2015. We began offering classes to junior high school children and also helped them with high school entrance exams, but after one year, elementary school children began to join. There are now students between the third year of elementary to the third year of junior high who attend our classes.
What are your current principal activities?
Every Sunday from 10 to 12, we offer learning support to students whose maternal language is not Japanese at the Volunteer Plaza, on the fourth floor of the Hoku Topia, a municipal center of Kita Ward located close to Oji Station. Because elementary and junior high students in Kita Ward have Japanese language class from one to three times per week for 2 years, we offer assistance in other subjects. We begin with subjects that don’t require much Japanese ability such as math and English, but some children know very little Japanese, and for those we prioritize learning the language. In the class are also children who were born and raised in Japan, but whose parents are foreigners. Children raised in a home where Japanese is not the main language normally have difficulty with Japanese vocabulary. In cases where children are having difficulty in a subject such as math, which is learned in cumulative steps, we offer help for them to attain the same level as others. In addition, we organize special events several times per year, for example, practicing kakizome (the first calligraphy of the new year) before the start of winter vacations and we gather to celebrate graduation in spring. Previously, in addition to regular classes, we organized classes to help children in the third year of junior high prepare for high school entrance exams, and others to help complete summer vacation homework.
Children that come to class on Sunday mornings
are serious-minded and strong-willed.
© Kitaku Manabiba Let’s Study
Assisting elementary school children.
© Kitaku Manabiba Let’s Study
Are there increasing numbers of children learning in class and volunteers offering assistance?
When we began classes in fiscal year 2015 there was a total of 372 children visits and 469 volunteer visits. In our third year of activities in fiscal year 2017 this increased to 970 children visits and 578 volunteer visits. I believe numbers will increase even more in fiscal year 2018. The children who attend classes came because their homeroom teachers or school social workers introduced us; some came because parents enrolled in adult Japanese language classes wanted their children to attend; and some came because their friends brought them along. The majority of volunteers can offer to help only on weekends as they are busy on weekdays with work. Recently, there are increasing numbers of high school students offering to be a volunteer for the first time. The children are happy to have high school volunteers as they can easily help them with subjects that are still fresh in their minds from junior and elementary school days, and can guide the children who eagerly anticipate and want to prepare for high school life. Recently, high school students, with a foreign background, volunteer and we feel as if we were meeting children in our classes who are now older. In reality, we actually have had occasional help from children who have studied here.
Kakizome practice with a master calligrapher.
Children from a country not employing Chinese characters struggle.
© Kitaku Manabiba Let’s Study
Meeting to self-reflect after class.
Information is exchanged and approaches to follow are discussed.
© Kitaku Manabiba Let’s Study
Are there any areas you pay particular attention to while assisting the children?
I am in charge of children in junior high. Relationships between students are more complex upon entering junior high school, and it is common that children, whose maternal language is not Japanese, are unable to participate in circles of communication and remain isolated in class. When I am told that children, who are always very active here, do not even speak one word in school, I strongly feel it is very important that/for our volunteer class be a place where they can freely speak in their maternal language with children in the same circumstance. I try to create an environment where children can learn, as well as feel that they belong.
I am in charge of children in the last 2 years of elementary. As in junior high, there are many children who feel there is no place where they can be comfortable in school. However, being typical children in elementary, there are many students who are mischievous and I must struggle to make them sit still and to study. I want them to not only dedicate themselves to study but to also enjoy talking with other children. I want children experiencing difficulty making friends at school to feel they can truly enjoy themselves here.
Some children who come here seem to solve certain academic problems easily, when in fact they have just memorized the solutions, and others who use words without knowing what they mean. To offer assistance it is important to focus the dialogue in order to determine if they really understand or not. I also want children to have contact in class with different volunteers who have different characters and different ways of teaching, which serves to improve the communication abilities of the children.
Can you tell us about aspects that worry you of the children to whom you offer support?
It is a serious problem that children who were born in Japan, or came when very young, are not fluent in either Japanese or their maternal language. A serious problem is how to teach school subjects to children who know everyday Japanese but not enough to master school. A much more serious problem is as children lose their maternal language, it becomes more difficult to communicate with their parents. I am astonished by the number of children who have this problem which could lead them to lose their identity.
The biggest barrier to children whose maternal language is not Japanese, is definitely high school entrance exam. The entrance exam for foreign residents is strict and very competitive. Many children take the 5-subject exam, as do Japanese children, but it is quite challenging to pass. We know that the children in our classes have high potential. However, the stark reality is that they cannot gain entry into a high school that meets their potential. It is a flawed system design, and I deeply bemoan it.
Can you speak to us about problems with your activities?
In addition to the lack of volunteers, it is a perpetual headache that there are few volunteers who can commit over the long term. It makes it impossible to continue when a volunteer experiences a life change, for example, a work transfer for working people, and in the case of students, upon entering university or joining the workforce. It would ease our worries to have people who could volunteer over a longer period of time, even for fewer classes per month, as they know what to do and know the children well…
We have issues with the location of the classes. We have 20 children and 15 volunteers that meet, however the venue cannot accept more. In addition, we are operating at capacity in only one classroom, but it seems inadvisable to have only one base in Oji in an area as immense as Kita Ward. Children who need support should have classes readily available, and I would like to increase our bases to other areas of the ward.
Ono Bldg. 3F, 17-15 Kandamatsunagacho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0023