With an increase in foreign students, Japanese kindergartens are struggling to adapt to changing Japan.
“You see a lot of foreigners around here lately” is something that until even just a few years ago, you wouldn’t have heard very very often.
But things are changing as some Japanese children find themselves a minority in kindergarten.
Japanese are the minority?!
In one Tokyo kindergarten, these words are becoming the norm as the number of non-Japanese students has risen from 0% to a whopping 60% in recent years.
Many parents think this is a great chance to have their children experience multiculturalism, However, for kindergarten staff, many problems are arising as they struggle to keep up with the changing times.
How do I explain Nanban Udon in English?!
One such problem for kindergartens struggling with the increase of foreign students (and parents) is communication. While many parents can speak to some extent, many still can’t read difficult Japanese characters.
In an attempt to prevent any incidents relating to food-based allergies, one kindergarten has written up a thorough menu and list of ingredients. The list, full of difficult to read Japanese characters is of little use to the parents who can’t read Japanese.
To make things harder, many of the ingredients don’t have proper English equivalents, making it very difficult for someone who doesn’t have a good understanding of English to translate such an important document.
In the end, the completed translation of the menu still lacks detail as words such as ‘nanban udon’ simply becomes ‘noodles’, while some ingredients had to be left in Japanese.
Parents and staff equally worried.
Of course, it’s not just the staff who are struggling, but the parents, too.
One Nepalese student had to go home early due to being unwell. The staff struggled to fill in the report card to explain the details in a way the parent would understand.
With broken English and sections left blank, this will surely make any parent uneasy. It’s important for a parent to understand how much their child slept, ate, and behaved while they spent their time apart.
Many kindergarten teachers simply don’t have the English language skills to do this.
How should Japanese schools cope with the rise of foreign students?
It’s a very difficult situation and there is no immediate answer. It’s clear to me that the responsibility shouldn’t fall completely on the kindergarten, and action should be taken by the government, too. As the number of Japanese children continues to decrease and the number of foreigners increases, there’s no doubt that problems like this will continue to arise in the near future.