Toward Inclusive Alternative Learning Spaces: A Qualitative Study of Japan's Educational Support Centers

Tuesday, 12 July 2016
Location: Hörsaal 47 (Main Building)
Distributed Paper
Kumiko HIGUCHI, Tokyo Jogakkan University, Japan
This paper explores alternative learning spaces in Japan called educational support centers (ESCs), which cater to students who are excluded from formal schooling due to reasons such as bullying or truancy. Local education authorities founded ESCs, which the Ministry of Education heavily promoted in the 1990s. ESCs rapidly expanded nationwide, and there are now over 1,200 in the country’s urban and rural areas. There are no alternative choices for learning quite like ESCs, which offer open academic opportunities for students facing regional and economic disparities.

I examine the symbolic production of ESCs in order to shed light on their negative factors and ultimately make them more inclusive. To investigate the aforementioned negative elements, I carried out participant observation and semi-structured interviews at typical ESCs from 2012 to 2014. As supporting details, I used some data from questionnaires that I conducted nationwide from 2007-2015.

I summarize my major findings below:

(1) By building “alternative” spaces, a symbolic production of non-mainstream education occurs, which frequently requires ESC students or staff to prove the legitimacy of these centers. I describe how students behave very nervously when they go to and from the ESCs. I also explain how ESC staff members try to deconstruct and reconstruct the production.

(2) Personnel are often required to attach an educational meaning to ESCs. Since they are often set up in spare rooms in public facilities such as park administration buildings, ESCs seem unrelated to educational sites. Although it is effective to include students who have lost the motivation to study, educational success heavily depends on each ESC staff member’s practices.

(3) Attendance at ESCs often depends on the economic and cultural capital of students’ families since it is recognized as free-will. It is necessary to reconstruct “alternative” places as a foundation for socially vulnerable people.