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Worsening Work Hours for Teachers—Implement Measures to Prevent Overwork

post date : 2017.10.12

These articles present editorials from leading Japanese newspapers (Asahi, Sankei, Nikkei, Mainichi, Yomiuri) covering the same theme.

 

The Asahi Shimbun:Busy teachers—more people are needed for more work

The Sankei Shimbun:Work style of teachers—reforms needed so they can focus on teaching

The Nikkei:How to prevent exhaustion when working at schools

The Mainichi Shimbun:Reducing burden on schoolteachers an urgent task

The Yomiuri Shimbun:Eliminate such practices as teachers assuming all kinds of odd jobs

 

The number of public school teachers in Japan who work overtime beyond the “karoshi (death by overwork) line” of an average of 80 hours per month (60 hours of work or more per week) is approximately 60% for junior high schools, and 30% for elementary schools. This situation came to light in a 2016 survey on working conditions for teachers by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), the results of which were announced in April 2017. In response, on August 29 the MEXT Central Council for Education released an emergency recommendation on work style reform at schools, calling for introducing time cards to help manage when teachers leave work, and reviewing cooperation and division of labor with administrative staff.

 

According to international studies, junior high school teachers in developed countries work an average of 38 hours per week, demonstrating that Japan’s teachers are working abnormally long hours. The main reasons are due to more preparation time required to handle the increased number of classes in the updated curriculum, and a doubling of hours spent supervising extracurricular activities on Saturday and Sunday. Contrary to the work style reform being advanced by the government, teachers have been becoming even busier.

 

Japan’s national papers have all covered the issue of overworked teachers in their editorials, stating “these harsh conditions cannot be ignored,” and called for rapidly implementing concrete measures for work style reform to allow teachers to focus on teaching classes.

 

■ Critical to Review Management of Teacher Work Hours

 

Extra pay for overtime hours worked by public school teachers is not covered by the Labour Standards Act, and instead teachers are provided with 4% of their base salary as essentially overtime pay. Therefore, the special law on teacher salaries states that “Overtime pay and pay for working on days off will not be provided.” The Nikkei (September 27) suggests that this legal basis is “one reason it became customary not to manage their working hours,” and notes, “This law was created based on a survey of teachers’ working conditions over 40 years ago. It is not appropriate for the busy workplace that schools have become in recent years.” According to the Central Council for Education emergency recommendation, only 10.3% of elementary schools and 13.3% of junior high schools use time cards or other systems so that they are aware of when teachers come into and leave work.

 

The Yomiuri (September 18) also states that it is because teaches are paid an extra 4% of their base salary that “only about 20 percent of elementary and junior high schools record the clock-out time of teachers.” The paper also argues that the reason Japan’s class time is less than the average for advanced nations, despite teachers’ long working hours, is because they “spend a lot of time on extracurricular activities and odd jobs,” and emphasized, "It is important to review such practices as teachers taking on all sorts of work.” According to MEXT, over 20% of elementary and junior high schools still collect lunch fees by hand, and the paper questions having homeroom teachers or other staff trying to collect unpaid fees, stating it “can hardly be considered part of [their] primary duty.”

 

■ Main Reasons Are Class Time and Extracurricular Supervision

 

All five papers note the same main reasons for the long working hours: increased class hours, and supervising extracurricular activities.

 

The Asahi (May 7) notes that with the number of classes for elementary and junior high schools having increased as part of the plan to move past the “yutori” education policy, and with elementary students in grades 3 to 6 to have an extra English class each week starting in 2020, while the number of teachers has remained flat or decreased in the past few years, “The only option is to make up the difference with overtime.” In particular, in response to the Ministry of Finance’s proposal last year that it would be necessary to reduce the number of public school teachers by over 40,000 from the current 690,000 over the next 10 years due to lower student numbers because of the declining birth rate, the paper is critical: “A simple calculation based on the current work style is not sufficient. This is an issue affecting the teachers’ lives and health…. This needs to be reconsidered from square one.” Twenty years ago, an advisory council to the government proposed implementing “two days of rest per week” for extracurricular activities while in compulsory education, but this proposal has still not been implemented, and The Asahi calls for making the two days of rest mandatory, arguing, “If teachers are too busy, it will reduce the time and quality of their interactions with the students.”

 

The Mainichi (April 29) also notes concerns over the increased burden from longer class times as well as supervising extracurricular activities, stating, The hours that junior high school teachers spend instructing students in extracurricular activities at weekends and on national holidays have doubled to over two hours a day on average (four hours on weekends),” and calls for hiring extracurricular activity supervisors as school staff. The paper also mentions that “around 5,000 teachers take sick leave each year due to mental problems,” and argues, “It is necessary to increase the number of teachers to reduce their burden while seeking assistance from outside experts and reviewing their duties.”

 

Additionally, the papers all called for rapidly introducing policies to aid hiring staff to support administrative tasks such as preparing lessons and printing out handouts, as well as hiring more teachers for specialized subjects and student counselors, as described in an emergency recommendation by a special committee of the Central Council for Education. The Sankei argues, “In a workplace where people are tired from miscellaneous duties, there can be no expectation of self-improvement, and it will become difficult to find qualified individuals in the future. Revitalizing public education will require improving the quality of teachers.”

 

 

*English translations of The Yomiuri and The Mainichi are from The Japan News and The Mainichi, respectively. Those for The Asahi, The Sankei and The Nikkei are provisional. The content of this page was made by the Foreign Press Center Japan and does not reflect the opinion of the Japanese Government or any other organization.

 

 

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