Academy Global on the Rise in Tokyo|TOKYO Community Vol. 1

Tokyo's international education scene is no longer monopolized by international schools. Explore the alternative education options for international children in Tokyo.
Photo by Christoph Theisinger on Unsplash
(Photo by Christoph Theisinger on Unsplash)

It takes more than bravery and a challenger spirit to move overseas and start a new life in a foreign land. One can soon be overwhelmed with the logistics and realities of moving and adapting to local scene. It's even more so when the relocation involves family, especially with children.

For many years, Tokyo's education scene for international children have thought to be limited to prestigious international schools that offer only Western (American and British) curriculums. Over recent decades, Tokyo's international education scene has been vastly enriched. There is now wide spectrum of education for international children, varying in Japanese language proficiency, cultural/national-specific education, local community engagement, age range, and pricing, that are readily available in Tokyo.

For all international parents, the first decision to make is "Which schooling system to enroll your children into? International School or Local School?"

The Tokyo Metropolitan Area is equipped with the highest density of international schools in Japan. There are over 40 internationals schools located throughout various wards of Tokyo, providing diverse options for parents seeking an international education for their children.

For most international families, especially the expatriates, international school is almost always the given answer. But with the evolving scape of local schooling system in Tokyo, international schools may no longer be the only option.

Here are some key points to consider when deciding to enroll your children into international schooling system or the local schooling system in Japan.

School Calendars: Majority of international schools in Tokyo follows the Western school calendar, with school year starting in the Fall (August/September) and ending in early Summer (May/June), while the school year for local schools in Japan starts in April and ends in March.

Japanese Language Proficiency and Support: As International schools are designed to cater for foreign children living abroad, English is the dominant language adopted by most international school and require zero to minimal Japanese language proficiency to enroll. Some international schools do provide Japanese as Second Language (JSL) as extra curriculum to support the students' daily lives beyond the school walls.

On the other hand, different from past impression, many local public schools have become more accepting of international children with zero to limited Japanese proficiency. Local public schools, together with local ward offices, provides JSL lessons and regular Japanese Support services to students enrolled in public schools free of charge. Please consult your children's school or local ward office for more information on Japanese Language Support Services.

(Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Unsplash)

Cultural/National-Specific Education:
At its core, international school is to provide a leveled education platform so when children relocate with their parents, their education would not be disrupted due to inconsistencies of the schooling system. Catering to the growing foreign population and diverse ethnicities, Tokyo's international school scene has also diversified. Multiple international schools adhere to either the American or British education system (providing AP classes or International Baccalaureate programs (IB)), enabling students to have smooth transition when relocating to schools in the States or UK, such as the American School in Japan, The British School in Tokyo, etc. For students with background other than the US or the UK, and desire education rooted to their heritage, it is highly possible that there are a variety of international schools in Tokyo for you too. Such as the Tokyo Korean School (Korean), Global Indian International School (Indian), Lycée Français International de Tokyo (French), etc.

Continuity of Education and Availability: While local public schooling system may not be able to provide the smooth education transition for students when they relocate overseas, the local public schools can provide better education continuity for international students living in Japan. Out of the many international schools in Tokyo, only few provides full range school years from Pre-Kindergarten to high school. The international school body is more concentrated in education for pre-school to primary school; the higher the school year, the thinner in internationals school body. Parents with children beyond primary school may be faced with challenges of transferring to another international school with higher education and long waiting lists to those schools. The local public schools, in comparison, can ensure availability in school of your neighborhood and swift enrollment.

Local Community Engagement: International schools are like mini cultural melting pots as it enables students of different cultural background to interact. However, international schools can also sometime become a bubble of foreigners that deters international families from engaging with local communities. Naturally, for foreigner families whose children are enrolled in local public schools, they would have more engagement with local Japanese families and local communities through activities organized by the schools.
Regardless of which schooling system your child is enrolled in, there are opportunities to find playmates beyond school campus. Many City Ward offices of Tokyo Metropolitan provide contact to International Friendship Associations (国際交流協会) that hosts cultural exchange events and even free Japanese lessons on a weekly basis. There are also public Children's Hall/Activity Centers (児童会館) located throughout Tokyo that provide array of activities such as arts & craft classes and sports.

(Photo by Note Thanun on Unsplash)

Perhaps one of the key consideration points for parents when selecting which school to enroll their children into. International schools are generally more costly, with tuition ranging from ¥600,000 to ¥5,000,000 per year, and often with additional expenditures from extra curriculum, school trips, school buses, etc. The tuition of international school varies from school to school and the different school years. On the other hand, public schools in Japan are less of a financial challenge. As part of Japan's Constitution, all citizens have the right to obligatory public education, free of charge. Foreigners residing in Japan and chose to enroll in Japan's public education are also subject to this right. There are still some expenditures to public schools, such as school bags, uniforms, extracurricular activities, occasional textbooks, but the overall tuition is free. The general cost of attending a local public school in Tokyo is between ¥300,000 and ¥500,000 per year.

Japan's overall education has consistently ranked amongst one of the top 10 countries with the best education system for over decades. International children living in Japan are bound to receive high quality education, regardless of which schooling system they enroll into.

As Tokyo welcomes more diverse families asserting their new identity of Tokyoites, the school of Tokyo, international, public, and private, are becoming the new arena of cultural exchange.

Text: Rovan Yu