I’ve just received a copy of the city-issued newsletter, Tsukuba no Ko (Issue 61, 2008 03 18). This issue is interesting for me because it reports on the results of a survey conducted last year among parents who use the public daycare system in Tsukuba. I participated in that survey, if only to contribute positively, in my own little way, to the improvement of this very important system. Why? If you were to ask me if there was one single thing that has allowed me to work all these years, it would be the hoikusho, or daycare. Aya has been enrolled in the daycare since zero-sai, or "zero" years old (a convenient way of referring to children’s age below 1 year old). I love the daycare because it is well-structured, organized, and dependable. It has allowed me to work without worrying about my daughter. Aya loves the daycare too, for it is where she enjoys playing and gets taken care of for the most part of the day, and she has developed really nice relationships with the kids in her class.
I’ve heard of the moves to privatize the daycare system across Japan, but I couldn’t really say that I understood well the reasons for it. Why? Because despite the fact that there are a number of foreigners like us who use the daycare system, there has been virtually no effort to communicate to us these things in a language that we understand. Personally, I would very much like to know the issues related to this very important aspect of our life here, because it affects us directly. But how? It is already complicated as it is. I think I’ve gotten some handouts at one time or the other about the privatization move, but I have a feeling that it is just stashed away somewhere in my growing pile of papers. Gomen ne, zenzen wakarimasen.
How many daycare-related handouts or newsletters are written in English? Zero. In the daycare where Aya attends, there is no one who could speak English, or at least nobody ever tried to talk to me in English. Why bother, right? As someone who has spent the last decade or so in this country, this is not so much an issue anymore, because at least I could communicate with the teachers.
But still, there are difficulties, especially when it comes to written material, which still takes me forever to read and digest. Sure, I can read and write Japanese, but even my current abilities are still limited, and more often than not there are difficult Kanji characters that I have never even encountered yet. Without the jisho (dictionary) I would be hopelessly lost. And mind you, I do get a lot of stress trying to understand the reading materials written only in Japanese. Gee, don’t you see that I already get a lot of that from my workplace! Give me a break.
So yes, definitely, although it is not as inscrutable as before, the language barrier is still there. I struggle, and somehow in the process I learn. It is my only consolation. It is like being thrown into the water and somehow learning to swim in order to live and survive.
Back to the survey. Out of the 1,925 questionnaires handed out, only 697 responded, thus a return-rate of 36%. There were four main issues. The respondents were asked to check areas which they considered were important. Here is a brief summary:
1. With regards to equipment/environment
Most parents regarded the fixing of the old/deteriorating facilities to be important. Next is room and toilet hygiene maintenance, closely followed by securing a playground that can be used for rainy days.
2. With regards to the environment surrounding the daycare
Many respondents considered the expansion of parking lots allotted for daycare use to be important, followed closely by security countermeasures. Among safety countermeasures, most considered the countermeasure for unlawful entry of intruders to be important.
3. With regards to daycare content
Most respondents indicated that the present system is satisfactory, although many preferred the increase in the number of male daycare teachers. As expected, most respondents would like the daycare fees to be reduced further.
4. With regards to public daycare privatization
There are two specific questions:
How well do you understand the privatization move?
44% responded that they understand, 52% responded that they do not understand, and 4% abstained.
Do you think an explanation in detail about the privatization is necessary? (Well, duh.)
79% indicated that it’s important, 14% responded that it is not important, and 7% did not indicate their answers.
There are also some who expressed their opinion about certain matters, like getting rid of the daily rice bento that children above 3 years of age have to bring (for lunch), getting rid of the "obento no hi" or lunchbox day (this is just once a month), among others. Hmm. I don’t really mind getting up early in the morning to prepare my kid’s rice bento. How difficult is that? Just pop in the rice to go. The obento no hi is another thing, though. I get a lot of stress trying to make obento, because I don’t want Aya suffering humiliation among her friends for having a poorly packed or prepared obento by her okaasan.
But here’s one that caught my attention, though: inclusion of eikaiwa or English conversation with gaijin teachers. Wow. I guess that would make our lives a whole lot easier, if all the kids at the daycare and their moms and pops would speak English! It sure beats having to translate those Japanese documents for the benefit of the foreigners who clearly belong in the minority. For those who are teaching English in elementary schools, what say you? Ever thought of teaching English to snotty toddlers in daycare?
Aya has one year to go, and I’m not sure if she’d still be around should the privatization thingy push through. Maybe things would become better, maybe not. Who knows.
But perhaps that would be the least of my worries in view of an ever tougher challenge that looms ahead of us: shogakkou (elementary school). AAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!