by Yutaro Nishioka
Robert Moorehead‘s research, “Separate and Unequal: The Remedial Japanese Language Classroom as an Ethnic Project,” addresses education for immigrant children in a Japanese elementary school. He examines the connection between the Japanese as a second language (JSL) classroom and the school’s homeroom classes, as well as the impact of the JSL class on immigrant children’s academic development.
The teachers of the elementary school claim that the JSL classrooms not only help the immigrant students to learn the Japanese language but also enable them to relax from challenging situations in an effort to adapt to the Japanese culture and language. The research reveals that although professional norms in Japanese education value equality, collectivity, and mutual interdependence, the JSL classrooms separate those immigrant children from the regular Japanese students in the homeroom class, by which the gap between the immigrant children and regular children never disappears.
Is this an effective way of educating the immigrant children? I don’t think so. In this blog post, I’d like to discuss the experiences of my friend (fully Japanese) who moved abroad and received education in a context outside Japan at the age of 7, and argue that the way the JSL program attempts to educate immigrant children is not effective.
My friend was born and raised in Japan until the age of 7, when she moved to Switzerland due to her mother’s job. Like a normal Japanese child, she had gone to a Japanese kindergarten and elementary school. Since she had had no previous English education, she initially had an extremely hard time learning English to understand her teachers. Unlike the immigrant children that learn Japanese outside their homeroom classes, she was in the ESL (English as a second language) class only for the first 3 months, and after the 3 months she was treated the same way as the other students. She also went to a Japanese school every Saturday to maintain and improve her Japanese.
The reason why she was in the ESL class only for the first 3 months is that the level of English used in the ESL class was not much different than that of other students because they were only 6-7 years old. She also reports that whenever she was pulled out of the class, she felt “embarrassed and isolated.” She doesn’t know whether the teachers sensed her feelings, but she is glad that she quit taking the ESL so that she stopped feeling uncomfortable any more. After leaving the ESL class, she learned English ‘naturally’ on her own just by studying with the other students without being isolated.
Those who believe in the effectiveness of the JSL program in educating immigrant children in Japan would have to say that she could not have learned English to reach the regular students’ standards. However, the fact is that she quickly learned English to the point where the others would not be able to tell she was not a native English speaker, and she was doing just as well as the other students whose native language was English. In fact, she says she now speaks English even better (or more comfortably) than her Japanese. She not only moved on to high school but also to a university in Canada. I have a few other friends that went through a similar situation as hers, and they all learned English without being isolated from the native students and brought their English to the native level.
Moorehead’s study mentions that while 97 percent of Japanese youths aged 15-18 are in high school, only 42 percent of Brazilians and less than 60 percent of Filipinos go to high school. In contrast, all of the friends of mine that went abroad and acquired English are now in university. This clearly implies the ineffectiveness of the present JSL program.
Moorehead, Robert. (2013). “Separate and Unequal: The Remedial Japanese Language Classroom as an Ethnic Project.” The Asia-Paciﬁc Journal 11(32):3.