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 education needs
MEXT defines ‘students who need special support’ as those who have physical disabilities, developmental disabilities such as autism, or learning disabilities.
Since 2007, the special needs education system has tried to move from ‘special education’ to ‘special needs education’, where the latter focuses on needs rather than disabilities, so that all students with difficulties can receive appropriate education support. However, the number of students attending special needs education schools and the number of such schools continue to increase. 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’ as follows.
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 proportion of students in special education schools is six per class, but the average was reported to be closer to three. Exchanges and joint learning are conducted between regular elementary schools and special needs education schools. Students in special needs education schools participate in school events such as elementary school music and drawing classes, school lunches and excursions. In 2017, there were 1,135 special schools in Japan 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 the average was reported to be three. In 2017, there were 235,000 students with special education needs enrolled in special classes.
Inclusion in regular classes
At present, most special support in regular classes is for developmental disabilities or in the form of behavioural, learning or interpersonal support. In the document About Ways to Promote Special Needs Education, the government mentions building a school system ‘beyond disability types’, showing the transition from segregation to integration. Students may also receive individual instruction that matches their individual characteristics. In 2017, there were 107,000 students with special education needs instructed in regular classes. They accounted for 3.2% of the total number of students with special education needs.
Home schooling exists for severely disabled children who have difficulty getting from home to school.
Japan has not ratified the 1960 Convention Against Discrimination in Education. The Basic Act on Education states that children should not be discriminated against 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 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, 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 education needs, to implement exchange and a cooperative learning platform and to conduct research utilizing resources from the school clusters.
In the past, Law 144/54 provided support for children and students registered at special education schools through provision of books, meals (lunch), transportation fees for commuting and school trips, and educational supplies. In 1970, the Basic Law for Persons with Disabilities was adopted to ‘promote welfare of persons with disabilities’. The Basic Act for Persons with Disabilities (as revised in 2011) highlights the importance of a ‘symbiotic society’ in which all citizens, regardless of disabilities, respect and support each other. This act provides measures to encourage the participation in 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 education support so that persons with disabilities can receive education according to their disability.
Article 16 of the Basic Act for Persons with Disabilities 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 1999 Basic Law for a Gender Equal Society 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 a Basic Plan for Gender Equality whose key objectives are to raise awareness on gender equality through education and media, develop widespread popular publicity and education campaigns, and study and promote gender equality. MEXT works with the Gender Equality Bureau to 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 terms of career guidance, the 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, a study promotion programme provides basic learning opportunities in Japanese for children of foreign residents. There is relatively little support for ethnic schools. Despite the existence of ethnic minorities, the Japanese Constitution contains no provisions for their protection and no general legislation has 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 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.
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 the study of multigrade teaching, holds an annual national conference for the study of education in rural and isolated areas, and provides training courses for leading personnel and a teacher’s guide for multigrade teaching. Finally, the 2010 Revised Criteria took into consideration new elements such as the distance of 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 with jurisdiction over the formulation and promotion of the Basic Programme for Persons with Disabilities, whose purpose is to ‘provide support so that persons with disabilities participate in all activities in society, based on their own decisions, and achieve self-actualization by exercising their capacity to the fullest extent toward the realization of an inclusive society’. Moreover, the Prime Minister must hear the opinion of the Commission on Policy for Persons with Disabilities concerning the establishment or change of the Basic Programme. The commission may study and deliberate on the programme, monitor the status of its implementation 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. 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.
MEXT and the MHLW implemented the Practical Work Promotion Programme for Persons with Disabilities, which promotes workplace training in cooperation with other related organizations, seminars and business tours to enhance understanding of corporate employment, and to provide advice from disabled employment advisors and a disabled work support team. MEXT and the MHLW also worked on the Triangle project, which began in 2018 to promote cooperation between family, education and welfare.
The government supports the improvement of school 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 persons with disabilities. National subsidies are provided for the maintenance of necessary equipment such as 3D copy facilities, FM hearing aids, VOCAs (voice output communication support aids), portable crime prevention bells and school buses. According to the Special Needs Education School Facilities Development Guidelines, four key points help to secure the facility environment: accounting for the education 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; and maintaining the facilities in good condition, in cooperation with the local community.
In special needs education schools, six forms of ‘self-reliance activities’ – 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 education programme aligning to a 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 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 that 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 in order to obtain a special needs education certificate. This means that all teachers with a special needs education license are also qualified general education teachers. As a result, Japanese teachers with a special needs education certificate can move from special needs education to general education or from general to special needs education during their career.
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 had a license for disability. In order to acquire the knowledge necessary to deal with several types of disabilities, teachers must take courses on the different types of disabilities.
In a 2014 evaluation document on implementation measures and the Inclusive Education System Construction Model Project Results Report, 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.