The Yomiuri Shimbun:- Since the 2007 school year, the education ministry has been promoting its own program, separate from the health and welfare ministry’s efforts, to utilize space such as empty classrooms at primary schools for various after-school activities for children.
Called “hokago kodomo kyoshitsu” (after-school children’s class), the program is basically designed for children whose parents both work and are not home yet when children return from school. However, any child can use the program.
More and more municipalities have begun to implement this program instead of the traditional after-school child care program under the supervision of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, but some have pointed out the education ministry program lacks standards for the scale of activities or the allocation of staffers.
Shinozaki No. 4 Primary School in Edogawa Ward, Tokyo, has renovated empty classrooms on the first floor and operates a kodomo kyoshitsu until evening hours even during long vacation periods. On average about 120 children from the first to sixth grades participate in the program each day. They draw pictures or play with friends in the schoolyard, for instance, while five to six staffers keep an eye on them.
Any children can register to participate in the program, but half of them have two parents who work during the day.
The Edogawa Ward Office has opened kodomo kyoshitsu at all ward-run primary schools. Because any child can participate in the program, which is run directly by the ward’s board of education, “It’s easy to gain the cooperation of schools,” said a board official.
Although only children whose parents are both working can use the program in the hour to 6 p.m., the Tokyo metropolitan government decided not to receive subsidies from the health and welfare ministry for its after-school child care program.
The education ministry started the hokago kodomo kyoshitsu project for a number of reasons, including an insufficient number of places for children to play safely in their communities. But different areas implement the program differently.
The education ministry’s subsidies mainly cover personnel costs. As there are limits on the number of days the classrooms are open each year, local municipalities partially shoulder the costs for operating the program. The Kawasaki and Yokohama city governments operate the program in evening hours as part of traditional after-school child care by the health and welfare ministry.
To hold after-school child care programs, such factors as the scale of activities and hours of operation are decided according to the health ministry’s guidelines. The ministry plans to compile standards on such points as staff qualifications and personnel distribution this fiscal year under the Child Welfare Law.
On the other hand, the education ministry has no guidelines for kodomo kyoshitsu, leaving everything to local education boards.
“As a result, [the education ministry program] cannot fulfill the original purpose of the health ministry’s program to provide a homelike place for children whose parents are both working,” said an official of the national liaison council for after-school child care centers.