The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technologies (MEXT) defines the concept of Inclusive education as “a mechanism that enables persons with disabilities and persons without disabilities to learn together as much as possible”.
Special needs education
The Ministry also defines “students who need special support” as those who have physical disabilities, developmental disabilities such as autism and learning disabilities.
Since 2007, the special needs education system has tried to move from "special education" to "special needs education" where the focus is on needs rather than disabilities, so that all students with difficulties can receive appropriate education support (Song, 2016). However, the number of students attending special needs education schools and the number of such schools continue to increase. The MEXT defines special needs education as “education for students with disabilities, in consideration of their individual educational needs, which aims at full development of their capabilities and at their independence and social participation”. Different structures deliver education to “students who need special support”:
Special needs education schools
Before the revision of the School Education Act in 2007, special education schools were classified as “schools for the deaf, the blind and for disabled children”. Each special education school has a “general class” composed of children with a single disability and a class composed of students with multiple disabilities. The standard number of students in special education schools is six per class, but at present the average is three. Exchanges and joint learning are conducted between regular elementary schools and special needs education schools. Special needs education school students participate in school events such as elementary school music and drawing classes, school lunches, and excursions. In 2017, there were in Japan 1.135 special schools with 142,000 students enrolled.
Special need classes in regular schools
Students in these classes often move to regular classes to do ac hoc activities. In special classes, the standard number of students per class is eight, but at present, the average is three. In 2017, there were 235,000 students with special educational needs enrolled in special classes.
Inclusion in regular classes
At present, most special support in regular classes is for developmental disabilities, behavioural support, learning support, and interpersonal support. In the document “About ways to promote special needs education”, the government mentions building a school system “beyond disability types”, which shows the transition from segregation to integration. These students may also receive individual instruction that matches their individual characteristics. In 2017, there were 107,000 students with special educational needs instructed in regular classes. It accounted for 3.2% of the total number of students with special educational needs.
Home schooling exists for severely disabled children who have difficulty getting from home to school.
Japan has not ratified the Convention against Discrimination in Education (1960). The Basic Act on Education states that all children should not be discriminated in the education they receive, because of their race, religion, gender, social status, economic status or family origin. The report Building an Inclusive Education System to Form an Inclusive Society published by the MEXT states that:
"in an inclusive education system, it is important to provide elementary and preschool children who have special needs with various and flexible means of learning as well as the means to pursue learning in the same classes with other students. It is necessary to provide regular classes in elementary and junior high school, instruction in special classes for students with disabilities, classes for students with special needs, and schools for special needs education, all as connecting 'diverse environments of learning”.
In this spirit, in 2013, the MEXT implemented the model project "Developing inclusive education system" in 65 local municipalities, schools and institutes. The project aimed to consolidate good practices of providing reasonable accommodations to children with special educational needs, to implement exchange and cooperative learning platform and to conduct researches utilizing resources from the school clusters (Furuta and Osugi, 2016).
In the past, the Law 144/54 provided support for children and students registered at special education schools through provision of books, meals (lunch), transportation fee for commuting and for school trips and educational supplies. In 1970, the Basic Law for Persons with Disabilities in 1970 was adopted to "promote welfare of persons with disabilities. The Basic Act for Persons with Disabilities (revised in 2011) highlights the importance of a “symbiotic society” in which all citizens, regardless of the disabilities, respect and support each other's. This Act provides measures to encourage the participation in the society of persons with disabilities. The Basic Act on Education states that all citizens must be given an opportunity to receive education according to their abilities and affirms that national and local governments must provide the necessary educational support so that persons with disabilities can receive education according to their disability.
Article 16 of the Basic Act for Persons with Disabilities (revised in 2011) also states: “We must take necessary measures such as improving and enhancing the content and methods of education while considering that children and students with disabilities are able to receive education with non-disabled children and students as much as possible”. However, there is no other law related to persons with disabilities in education.
In 2014, Japan ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
Japan ratified the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1985. The Basic Law for Gender Equality Society (1999) identified five basic principles: respect for the human rights of men and women; participation in planning and decision-making; activities in family life: balancing work with other activities; and international cooperation. The government adopted The Basic Plan for Gender Equality which key objects are to raise awareness on gender equality through education and media, develop widespread popular publicity and education campaigns, and study and promote gender equality. The MEXT works with the Gender Equality Bureauto make elementary and secondary education students understand the importance of gender equality, while at the same time enhancing education, capacity development and learning opportunities. In career guidance, government also promotes a variety of career and occupational choices, considering the gender differences in the university entrance rate.
Ethnic and linguistic groups
The Japanese government provides Japanese language education free of charge. In terms of actual instruction in Japanese as a second or foreign language (JSL), there are two major categories: a topic-type JSL curriculum that sets topics according to children's interests, and a subject-oriented JSL curriculum that fosters the ability to use Japanese to participate in each subject. In addition, there is also a study promotion programme, which provides basic learning opportunities in Japanese language and a “study promotion programme for children of foreign residents”. There is relatively little support for ethnic schools. Despite the existence of ethnic minorities, the Japanese Constitution contained no provisions for their protection and no general legislation had been adopted to protect them.
People living in rural and remote areas
In 1954, the Law for the Promotion of Education in Remote and Isolated Areas was adopted. Under this specific law, some compensatory measures were introduced to promote education in these areas, and an effort has been made to reduce the disparities in education between isolated and non-isolated areas. More recently, the Promotion Law identifies the roles and functions of each level of administration to promote education in such areas. The MEXT is responsible for the provision of research activities on education in remote and isolated areas and grants subsidies to reinforce infrastructures in such schools. It has designed pilot schools for study of multi-grade teaching, holds an annual national conference for the study of education in rural and isolated areas, provides training courses for leading personnel and a teacher’s guide for multi-grade teaching. Finally, the 2010 Revised Criteria took into consideration new elements such as the distance of the schools from a financial institution, the distance from a supermarket and the regions that lack broadband service and mobile phone signals.
Article 4 of the Basic Act on Education states that the national and local governments shall take measures to provide financial assistance to those who, in spite of their abilities, encounter difficulties in receiving education for economic reasons.
MEXT is responsible for promoting inclusive (and special needs) education for all children. In parallel, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare (MHLW) is responsible for supporting people with disabilities with welfare. The Cabinet Office is the government agency having jurisduction on fomulation of/ promotion for the Basic Program for persons with disabilities. Moreover, the Prime Minister must hear the opinion of the Commission on Policy for Persons with Disabilities (hereinafter the "Policy Commission") concerning the establishment or change of the “Basic Program for Persons with Disabilities. Also, the Policy Commission may study and deliberate on the Basic Program for Persons with Disabilities, monitor the status of implementation of the Basic Program for Persons with Disabilities and, where deemed necessary, offer an opinion to the Prime Minister. In 2010, in addition to the Special Needs Education Special Committee, a special committee on the state of special needs education was established, and discussions were held regarding the state of special needs education. Finally, in 2012, a special committee working on inclusive education was set up in the Subdivision of Elementary and Lower Secondary Education of the Central Council for Education (Furuta and Osugi, 2016).
The MEXT and the MHLW implemented the Practical Work Promotion Programme for Persons with Disabilities that promotes workplace training in cooperation with other related organizations, seminars and business tours to enhance understanding of corporate employment, and to give advice from disabled employment advisors or the disabled work support team. The MEXT and the MHLW closely cooperated also within the Triangle project for cooperation between family, education and welfare, which began in 2018.
The government supports the improvement of schools’ facilities. Assistance is also provided, if necessary, for the construction or extension of school buildings or for large-scale renovation projects such as lifts, slopes and toilets for the persons with disabilities. National subsidies are also provided for the maintenance of necessary equipments such as 3D copy facilities, FM hearing aids, VOCA (voice output communication support aid), portable crime prevention bells, school buses, etc. According to the Special Needs Education School Facilities Development Guidelines, four key points help to secure the facility environment: accounting for the educational needs of each child with disabilities to guide service responses services; establishing a high-level functional environment, capable of adapting to change; ensuring a healthy and safe infrastructure; to maintain the facilities in good condition, in cooperation with the local community.
In special needs education schools, six forms of “self-reliance activities” (i.e. maintenance of health, psychological stability, formation of human relationships, understanding of the environment, movement of the body and communication) have been established at all education levels to offer a flexible educational programme aligning to the child's disability. For example, for visually impaired students, guidance is given on how to walk while using a cane, the use of touch adhering to supplement visual information, and the use of visual aids such as amblyopic lenses and enlarged video equipment. To guide self-reliance activities, teachers assess each student's actual situation, develop an individual education plan and develop instruction based on it. Finally, in special needs education classes in regular schools, the curriculum is based on a special instruction plan, which is the same as the one used in special needs education schools.
According to article 3 of the Educational Personal Certification Law, it is compulsory to hold a general education certificate, to obtain a special needs education certificate. This means that all teachers holding a special needs education license are also qualified general education teachers. As a result, Japanese teachers who hold a special needs education certificate can move from special needs education to general education or from general to special needs education during their career (Song, 2016).
Since 2017, the overhaul of the teacher certification system has made it mandatory for ordinary school teachers to take at least one pre-service course on special needs education. However, there is no mention of mandatory training on inclusive education.
In 2017, there were 67,977 special needs education school teachers, of which 52,829 were teachers with a license for disability. In order to acquire the knowledge necessary to deal with several types of disabilities, teachers shall take courses on the different types of disabilities.
In the evaluation document on implementation measures (2014) and the Inclusive Education System Construction Model Project Results Report, the MEXT identified indicators linked to inclusive education and to measures to “promote special needs education that meets the needs of each individual”, such as the number of individual plans for students with special needs, the participation rate in teacher training in special and inclusive education, and the number of special committees created on education for students with special needs.