Navigating the World of International Preschools and Kindergartens in Japan
Welcome to Japan's diverse and challenging world of international preschools and kindergartens. If you're a parent exploring educational options for your child, you likely have questions. Well, I've got some answers. But be warned; the answers might not be what you're expecting. After all, every new journey comes with surprises. But that's part of the fun, right?
My name is Kenji, and for over 15 years, I've had the privilege of working in Tokyo as an international preschool teacher and principal. I've seen many approaches to early childhood education in Japan and learned a lot about what makes a good preschool program.
I'll share my observations and insights on international preschools and kindergartens in Japan. I hope these reflections will provide new perspectives as you navigate this important decision.
Diversity of International Preschools and Kindergartens in Japan
Regarding early childhood education in Japan, there is a wider variety of options than many people realize. In addition to the traditional public and private Japanese kindergartens (youchien) and daycare centers (hoikuen), there are also many international preschools and kindergartens.
There are a few reasons for this diversity. First, Japan's declining birth rate has led the government to make childrearing more affordable and accessible. As a result, there have been significant changes in the laws governing early childhood education, training for teachers, and the disbursement of funds.
Second, as Japan has become more internationalized, demand for international schools, which offer curricula different from Japanese schools, has increased.
Finally, the bureaucracy surrounding early childhood education in Japan can be complex, even for native speakers. This complexity increased the entry barrier for new families unfamiliar with Japanese bureaucracy, language, and customs. International schools can offer a more streamlined and user-friendly experience for families unfamiliar with the Japanese education system.
International Schools in Japan
International schools have been around in Japan for a long time. St. Maur International School, for example, was founded in Yokohama in 1847. However, Japan's international schools have increased significantly in recent years. This increase is due to the above-mentioned factors, the growing number of foreign nationals living in Japan, and more interest from Japanese families.
The wide variety of international schools in Japan caters to different needs and preferences. Some schools focus on a particular nation's curriculum, such as the British or Canadian curricula. Some follow international standardized curricula such as the International Baccalaureate system. Others offer a more bilingual or multilingual approach. Still, others focus on specific subjects, such as the arts or STEM.
Licenses, Accreditation, and Benefits
Choosing a preschool or kindergarten in Japan can be a complex process, and one of the most important factors to consider is the school's license or accreditation status.
In Japan, early childhood education facilities fall into two broad categories: approved and unapproved. Approved facilities, known as "Ninka," such as "ninka hoikuen" (approved kindergarten), meet specific operational standards set by the government. These facilities are eligible for certain economic benefits, including government subsidies for operating expenses and parental assistance to help cover tuition.
On the other hand, unapproved facilities, often referred to as "Ninka-gai" or "Mu-ninka," adhere to a more streamlined set of guidelines. These guidelines focus more on safety than specifics such as curriculum, tuition, or teacher standards. As a result, unapproved schools have more freedom in admissions and curriculum. However, the tradeoff is that parents who choose unapproved facilities may be eligible for less or no subsidies.
Many international preschools and kindergartens fall into the "unapproved" facilities category as their curriculum will not adhere to the Japanese government guidelines.
For non-Japanese-speaking parents, it's important to note that the terms "unlicensed" and "unapproved" can be misleading. They do not necessarily mean that a school is not providing quality care. Many unapproved facilities offer a high level of education and child care, making them a good option for families seeking a more flexible or customized learning experience.
However, it is essential to do your research before choosing an unapproved facility. Ask about the school's curriculum, teaching methods, and safety standards.
Some schools may also have accreditation from non-Japanese organizations. This accreditation can be a good indicator of the school's quality. Still, again it's up to you to verify the accrediting organization's reputation.
Ultimately, the best way to choose a preschool or kindergarten is to visit the school and talk to the staff. Get a sense of the atmosphere and the curriculum, and ask about the school's licensing or accreditation status.
The diversity of international preschools and kindergartens in Japan mirrors the evolving nature of the country's society. As Japan continues to internationalize, the demand for schools offering a global education is growing. International schools provide a valuable option for families seeking to immerse their children in diverse cultures and languages.
I look forward to sharing more insights about international early childhood education in Japan in future articles.
Start your journey to find the best school for your family with our comprehensive list of international preschools and kindergartens here: Prek.World!
Our list is location-based, designed to help you discover more schools than a simple Google search might reveal. Happy searching!
Here are some additional tips for choosing a preschool or kindergarten in Japan:
- Consider your family's needs and preferences. What is your child's learning style? What are your priorities for education?
- Do your research. Visit different schools and talk to the staff. Read reviews online.
- Get involved in the community. Talk to other parents and get their recommendations.
- Trust your gut. If you feel good about a school, that's a good sign.
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