TOKYO >> In early April, public schools welcomed a handful of Ukrainian children who have recently arrived in Japan after fleeing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Among them were Mariia Boiko, 12, and her younger brother Yaroslav, 9, who joined students at a ceremony April 7 to mark the start of the academic year at a municipal elementary school in Obu.
The siblings left Zhytomyr, west of Kyiv, with their mother and grandmother, and the family of four arrived in mid-March in Obu, where the children’s aunt lives.
Fourth grader Yaroslav introduced himself to his classmates using a portable translation device. “I like sushi and I like boxing,” he said.
Mariia is attending classes with sixth grade students at the elementary school while she is learning Japanese, even though Japanese students her age are starting the first year of junior high school.
The siblings are able to interact with the other students during physical education and English classes, and during lunch breaks.
They receive Japanese lessons in classrooms apart from the regular students.
Students at the elementary school all receive tablet computers. The siblings have access to devices with Ukrainian language settings.
Another Ukrainian child joined a municipal elementary school on April 7 in Yokohama. Interpreters assigned by the Yokohama city board of education are on hand to offer language support during classes.
The Osaka city board of education has secured several Ukrainian interpreters. However, no Ukrainian children had joined municipal elementary or junior high schools in the city as of April 7.
If Ukrainian children join Osaka schools, the board will consider teaching students about Ukrainian culture and language so that the new arrivals do not feel isolated.
Recently, there has been an increase in the number of children in Japanese schools who need supplementary language education, and the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry is making efforts to assign more Japanese-language teachers to schools.
In some municipalities, students take a monthlong intensive course to learn Japanese and about school life in Japan. The ministry has earmarked about $8.85 million in this fiscal year’s budget to improve such education through the use of multilingual translation systems, among other measures.