Public schools in Japan are suffering from a record shortage of teachers

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A teacher in her 50s at a neighborhood-run elementary school in Tokyo overheard the school principal say something startling during a staff meeting in early April.

“It has been decided that the new educator that we have been waiting for to come and work with us will not actually come to work here,” the director said.

The new teacher would not be sent to the school, which meant another head teacher had to be found.

Public schools are facing a shortage of teachers across Japan shortly after the start of the new school year in April.

The decline in the number of permanent teachers, coupled with the tendency of job seekers to be reluctant to become educators due to long working hours, is believed to have led to the current deficit.

“The problem may be that fewer people want to become teachers,” said a Tokyo school board official.

The Ministry of Education carried out its first investigation into the issue in the previous financial year, revealing that 1,897 public schools nationwide were short of 2,558 teachers in April last year, in start of the school year.

School operators could also face a severe shortage of teachers from now on, if more staff are absent for reasons such as illness or childbirth.

An expert has called for a better working environment for educators after special measures were taken, including a teacher initially hired only for small group lessons being put in charge of a full class, to the detriment of the class .

UNUSUAL SHORTAGE IN TOKYO

A Tokyo elementary school staff member who had just returned from maternity leave ended up attending the class now without a head teacher, despite the staff member being supposed to only teach children math in small groups.

The school eventually placed educators in all of its classrooms, but it became difficult to deliver lessons in small groups like last year and before.

Statistics from the capital’s school board show that public elementary schools in Tokyo were struggling to recruit 50 teachers as of April 11.

Provisional teachers are recruited each year to fill gaps discovered after the total number of classes for the new semester is finalized. They are chosen from a list consisting mainly of those who have a teaching license but have not yet been employed.

Not enough teachers were recruited this year as many turned down the offer for reasons such as “having found employment elsewhere”.

It is unusual to have a shortage of teachers in the capital, where it has long been said that there are many aspiring educators from the start of the school year.

The result is not surprising, however, considering that the competitive ratio for primary school teachers was as low as one in two applicants.

TEACHER SHORTAGE REPORTED ELSEWHERE

The Shimane Prefectural Board of Education told the prefectural assembly that it was shorted by a record 32 teachers mostly in elementary schools on April 1.

Reasons cited include fewer applicants for teaching positions due to the public perception that school staff have to work long hours.

There are plans to implement countermeasures, including rehiring retired educators and hiring new teachers.

Public schools in Chiba Prefecture, excluding those in Chiba City, were short of 348 teachers as of March this year, according to the prefectural board of education, which reviews the number of teachers every month. additional teachers that these schools need. This is the most necessary since the beginning of the measures.

With this in mind, Akira Nakagawa, general secretary of the Chiba branch of the All Japan Teachers and Staff Union, distributed leaflets calling for the dispatch of more teachers.

“We have a much stronger sense of crisis as the burden on school staff increases,” Nakagawa said.

In April this year, the ministry called for a system to be better leveraged where those who do not hold a teaching license but have professional careers and extensive knowledge and experience in other fields can teach in schools.

“The main factor behind the problem is that the number of new permanent educators has been reduced too much due to financial difficulties, because there will probably be far fewer children in the future given the declining birth rate,” said Aki Sakuma, professor of pedagogy at Keio University. who is well aware of the problem of the shortage of teaching staff.

Sakuma added, “This has created a situation soon after the start of the new fiscal year where operators have no choice but to rely on non-regular staff.

“In addition to this, now that it is widely known that teachers have to work long hours, schools are short of those hoping to become temporary educators with the aim of eventually working as permanent school staff.”

The situation is much worse in schools for children with disabilities.

A school run by the prefecture once hired two teachers for one class, although it requires three class educators.

Some students there require artificial respiration and other forms of medical care. Students should also be closely monitored as they sometimes leave class without notifying teachers. Thus, a lack of personnel can lead to dangerous situations.

A teacher in her thirties at the school lamented the circumstance.

“I feel like it’s considered acceptable not to send enough teachers to classes for children with disabilities,” she said. “It’s unforgivable.”

(This article was written by Yukihito Takahama and Senior Writer Mayumi Ujioka.)

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