Corona Virus /Japan School Closure Documents

Just wanted to share a few documents as souvenirs of my last few days as a teacher in Hiroshima Prefectural public high school.  These may be of interest to anyone who is interested in the recent unilateral school closings instituted by Japan’s Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe last Thursday evening, and effective tomorrow (March 2, through the end of this month).

These closings, which were initiated at the highest level of Japanese national government came as a surprise to everyone, both Japanese and non-Japanese.  But as an American expat, the breadth and scope of such a policy being instituted from the top-down was and is unimaginable in an American context.

The closest American analog I can think of would be the closures that have taken place in certain States or local jurisdictions after natural disasters– Hurricane Katrina, for instance, in Louisiana, or perhaps Sandy in the Northeastern U.S.  But, to my knowledge, if there were blanket school closures in these instances, they were initiated at the State level, if not the local (e.g. city or county level).  It begs the question: does the executive branch of the U.S. government have the power to close schools across the United States?  This is a question that I won’t be able to answer here definitively.  Somehow I doubt it.  My instinct, given the contentiousness of “states rights” along educational lines, is that even if a U.S. President tried to make a move like Mr. Abe’s last week, that it would meet resistance if not outright defiance from some jurisdictions on ideological if not practical grounds.

One of the most glaring problems that these school closures have left is the problem of what working parents are supposed to do with their elementary-school-aged children, who are suddenly at home for the next month.  Will they get parental leave of some kind?  Will the state intervene again to provide care or those students who may need it?

The documents I have linked to this post provide a bit of a backdrop against which we can pose these bigger labor questions, and evaluate this specific school-closure policy in the face of an admittedly dangerous disease.  They could also serve as a useful body of evidence in a critique of authoritarian, centralized, top-down, bureaucratic education systems, which are kind of “a thing” here in Asia.

A brief outline of each document follows.

1) 保険だより  Dated 2/2/20 This is the periodic (monthly? twice-monthly?) newsletter of the school nurse’s office.  Last week, when this was released the school was getting over a bout of the flu.  Several students in each class had been absent.  And so this helpful brief outlines proper “manners” for dealing with cold and flu symptoms.  It recommends gargling as well as frequent hand-washing, and wearing masks.  These are all common sense habits, really.  But they are being more frequently referenced in public these days, like on the train, I’ve noticed.

2) Special Events 教育長より Dated Reiwa 2/ 2/ 27  This message from the Superintendent of Hiroshima Schools advises caution in the carrying out of large events in the prefecture– meant to include in particular things like graduation ceremonies.  March 1st is the date for the majority of graduation ceremonies around Japan.  This doc is similar to the School Nurse’s newsletter in content, but it has the force of a policy memo.

It recommends limiting the face-to-face interactions of participants, making preventative measures like alcohol disinfectant spray available, and limiting the number of participants to those directly participating in events.

*It was the evening of 2/27 that Mr. Abe made his announcement of the school closures.

3) 臨時休校について (連絡)Memo Regarding the Temporary Closure of Schools

This doc came down the pike in the middle of the day last Friday 2/28 along with the letter (Document 4) to be sent home with students.  In gives the dates 3/3 to 3/19 of the initial closure.  Closure is the wrong word though– teachers are still expected to be at work.  There will be no club or sports meetings.  Students are to check the school homepage twice daily for any updates, but emails will also be sent through the emergency email system.

4)  Dated 2/28  This is the offcial letter from the Superintendant of Hiroshima Prefectural Schools outlining in broad strokes the information provided in greater detail by our individual school in number 3.  It’s labeled 通知– “Notice” interestingly– not 連絡, “communication” or “memorandum,” which I take to mean that it is merely an official communication of the Prime Minister’s announcement of the previous evening.  The details are left to the individual school to work out within the framework set out by those actors higher up the bureaucratic chain– in this case stretching all the way up to the top!

So, that wraps up this batch of documents.  It hope it was at least a little enlightening.

All schools in Japan told to close until April over virus outbreak | The Japan Times

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s surprise school-closure request came as the number of confirmed COVID-19 virus patients surged, exceeding 200 across Japan as of Thursday

Source: All schools in Japan told to close until April over virus outbreak | The Japan Times

Follow-Up

One promising thread that I was able to pick out from the intro to DeCorker and Bjork’s collection, Japanese Education in an Era of Globalization: Culture, Politics and Equity, was their aim to critique views of Japanese education which elide complexity in favor of a treatment of the Ministry of Education policy as THE driving force in the education system here.  They don’t mention specific authors they wish to critique, who come at Japanese education from this standpoint, but a review I read in the History of Education Quarterly (a journal which is a little light on Japanese Ed. history) takes this view.  Of course, MEXT is undeniably a powerful entity in the creation and implementation of education policy and curriculum here.  Furthermore, it is an organization with a more than 130-year history, which is to say, it is not undeserving of study.  However, I think it will be more useful to look at present-day education in Japan through a historical lens that de-centers what has been the central education authority in Japan.

Why do I think it is important to decenter the center in this case?  Well, apart from having a contrarian streak a mile wide, it has been my experience that teachers have the greatest influence on what education amounts to.  While they are beholden to the dictates of organizations like the Ministry of Education on paper, the realities (for better or for worse) off classrooms are always deviating from these norms.  I realize that it’s not nearly so easy to get a picture of what actually happens in classrooms as it is to follow the paper trail left by a government ministry dedicated to dictating what ought to be happening in classrooms.  But the counter-examples that are available will be instructive for teachers who may see their social-reconstructivist aims as being at odds with the curriculum from above.

The example of Hiroshima Jogakuin, the Protestant missionary school for girls, which was very much subject to the Ministry’s war-time dictates, and came under increasing scrutiny due in larg part to its employment of American staff (including head teacher, Nanny Gaines).  The activities of these foreign teachers in Japan and the support they received from their Japanese counterparts is I think a great model for present-day curriculum involving the cooperation of Japanese Nationals and non-Japanese native English speaker teachers (NESTs).

But that will have to wait.  And I will have to pick this thread up again a little later on.

Micro Review: Japanese Education in an Era of Globalization, Gary DeCorker & Christopher Bjork, Eds.

This post will be the first in a series of micro-reviews/ reflections on a collection of essays I recently got my hands on:

Japanese Education in an Era of Globalization: Culture, Politics, and Equity

Japanese Education in an Era of Globalization: Culture, Politics, and Equity, edited by Gary DeCorker and Christopher Bjork.

For a couple of years now I have been working off and on on a research project focused on Japanese teachers and schools which have worked against the grain of the Japanese Ministry of Education (Monbukagakusho or MEXT).  I picked up this title because it focuses on the contemporary moment in Japanese Education history, and a couple of specific initiatives (like the Super Global High School Program) that I am interested in placing in deeper historical context.

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As I write this my son and daughter are running around, having finished breakfast– both vying for my attention, as their mother is on her way to work.  This effort (my first in a while) at more academic writing comes in the midst of some of my most challenging efforts at parenting as well.  But hopefully this series of reviews will be a step toward a doctoral program and a career in history of education research and teacher education.  I just need to learn how to walk and chew gum at the same time.

To be continued.