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- Learning support class for children of foreign heritage in Minato City -
In Close Up this month we introduce “EGAO” Japanese Language Class for Children based in Minato City. With about 20,000 foreign residents, Minato City has many children and students of foreign heritage attending elementary and junior high public schools. However no organization existed which offered Japanese language or academic learning support to these children and their families. This was the situation when people interested in providing assistance to foreign residents united to establish the “EGAO” Japanese Language Class for Children in the fall of 2018. Its goal is to offer families whose native language is not Japanese a welcoming space, offering help with school assignments and providing supplementary tutoring, as well as providing consulting services to parents. On this occasion we spoke with administrative staff members about the activities of EGAO.
Please tell us what led to the establishment of the “EGAO” Japanese Language Class for Children in Minato City.
There are hundreds of foreign students attending elementary and junior high public schools in Minato City. If that included children of Japanese nationality but whose native language is not Japanese, there would be many more children and students who have some type of attachment to a foreign country. Children, especially young ones, quickly pick up fluency in everyday Japanese, and living one year in Japan is all it takes for them to acquire native-like conversational skills. However, different skills are necessary to study in Japanese. Many children cannot keep up in class and parents have difficulty offering help in a language that is foreign to them. Some regions have organizations offering learning support to help children and students with foreign roots, but regrettably there were none in Minato City. Consequently, individuals with long term experience providing assistance to foreigners, and Japanese language volunteers, united in November 2018 to establish the “EGAO” Japanese Language Class for Children to offer boys and girls with foreign roots learning support classes.
Please tell us about the current activities.
We hold 2-hour classes in a facility of Minato City during the first and third Sunday mornings of every month. The drop-in fee is 100 yen for the class. The main activities are one-to-one academic learning with volunteer teachers to work on school assignments, and supplementary study. During winter vacations some children do their New Year calligraphy work and during summer vacations children write book reviews. Because it is difficult for young children in Grades 1 and 2 to study for two hours, in the second half of the class we play games or offer storytelling to children. Japanese card games are especially popular for children of all ages and classes can become quite animated. We have cards with different themes, such as proverbs, etiquette, disaster prevention, so they can broaden their vocabulary. Children are eager to recite the cards aloud and we believe it is the best tool to learn Japanese while having fun. In addition, we organize Japanese traditional seasonal events. We don't have much money but get by with ingenuity. To date we have held events such as Bean-Scattering, the Girls´ Festival, and the Star Festival. In the future we would like to plan more events such as conducting experiments and disaster prevention classes with the participation of invited experts.
What kind of people are volunteer teachers?
Generally university students and young workers with experience in cram school tutoring or as a private tutor. We endeavour to recruit young volunteers because we believe the children will feel more comfortable with teachers who are generationally closer to them. Each volunteer teacher decides the teaching method at her/his discretion, but we have an information sheet with a list of guidelines we ask our volunteer teachers to adhere to. In addition to volunteer teachers we also have 5 administrators, 3 of whom are also volunteer teachers.
What successes have you had since the group began one year ago?
All students who began 6 months to 1 year ago continue to attend class which seems to suggest that the children, as well as the parents, are pleased. We heard comments that the children learn more here than they do in a cram school. One child, who refused to speak when he first arrived at EGAO, finally began to converse recently. It pleases us deeply to witness such changes. One father brought his child's tests to ask, "Can you redo the incorrect answers with my child? Please don't erase the wrong answers but write the correct solutions next to them". Seeing this kind of enthusiasm motivates us.
What problems do you experience with the activities?
It is regrettable that we don't yet network with schools. All children now attending learned about EGAO from Facebook or word of mouth. It is difficult to have confidence in a recently created organization, but as we build a solid track record we'd like to form connections with elementary and junior high schools so that more needy children and students can come to us. The children currently attending EGAO are Grade 1 to Grade 6 elementary students, but we'd like to welcome junior high students. However, before that can happen we need more volunteer teachers. In addition, in order to teach junior high school students, teachers must have more advanced mathematical and science skills, and it will be our duty to secure more volunteer teachers with these skills.
What is it that troubles you about the current situation that children of foreign heritage find themselves in?
It is expected that the majority of children attending EGAO will continue to live in Japan into the future. They must attempt to pass the high school entrance exams, however, Japan's school entrance exam system is very complex, which in reality foreign families don't completely understand. There are more than a few parents who believe that high school education is compulsory in Japan or believe that their child can choose whichever school regardless of exam results. Of course junior high schools provide academic guidance, but only in general terms based on the assumption that parents are already familiar with school norms and Japan's system of school entrance exams. Consequently, the guidance provided to foreign parents is inadequate. Because some EGAO members once provided guidance on cram schools or offered entrance exam support to their own children, perhaps it is possible to work together with foreign parents on entrance exams. If any parent has issues with their child concerning study or entrance exams, we urge them to consult with us.
What activities are planned for the future?
We want to create opportunities for more people to learn about EGAO. We'd like to connect not only with schools, but also learning support classes in other regions so that we may network. In addition, EGAO's goal is to create a space where families, whose maternal language is not Japanese, feel they belong by offering consultations to parents as well. As some of our dedicated members have long term experience assisting foreigners, while the children of foreign parents study at EGAO we would like to inform the parents about compulsory education and the Japanese entrance exam system which is confusing to them. We are fortunate to be able to offer consultations in English and would like to use this advantage now and into the future. We always seek volunteer teachers. If any person is interested in helping children in the community, please contact .
Ono Bldg. 3F, 17-15 Kandamatsunagacho, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 101-0023