Selecting PTA(Parent-Teacher Association) board members are a headache for many guardians in Japan. The PTA originally started out as a volunteer organization for parents to coordinate with teachers to improve children’s educational environment. However, Your Special Mission News Crew has received many letters of agony from readers about forced elections and the burden of excessive activities. What is the current situation of the PTA in Japan?
“I had to take more than 10 days off from work for the activities. They still expect all mothers to be stay-at-home-moms, like it was 40 years ago.”
One reader in her forties, who is a high school teacher in Fukuoka City and mother of a second grader, was selected as the PTA regional president through a lottery last year. The lottery was held at 10 A.M. on a weekday. Unable to get a day off from work, she submitted a letter of proxy explaining that she was unable to take on the duty of the president, but she was informed that day that she had been chosen anyway.
A letter distributed at an elementary school in Kumamoto City, Japan, listed penalties for non-PTA households.
The regional committee is responsible for assisting students on days when they go home in groups after school, and to keep an eye on them during their usual commute walking to and from school. As president, she had to make placards, create and collect surveys, and reach out to other PTA members. In addition, she had to write newsletters almost every month, print it out for 500 households, and put them into envelopes. The manuscript for the newsletters had to be physically stamped by the principle and respective teachers, so e-mail distribution was not permitted. From time to time, she had to sneak out of her workplace during work hours and go to her child’s elementary school, which entailed a 40-minute drive. The monthly meeting was held at 3 P.M. on weekdays.
This woman says, “This structure does not reflect current social trends. It needs to be changed, but I couldn’t muster up the strength to do it on my own.”
According to the Japanese Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, the PTA was brought into the country after WWII from the U.S. and endorsed by the government at the time. The PTA played a role in enhancing school facilities and launching the school-provided lunch system. While its structure or name has changed throughout the years, the PTA still exists in most schools.
Most PTAs consist of executive board members such as the president and treasurer, as well as grade-specific, neighborhood-specific, and PR committees. There also are umbrella bodies for schools, municipalities, prefectures, and regions, as well as a nationwide organization.
As the PTA is a private organization that is not based on law, parents are technically free to join or leave. However, most schools have a compulsory and automatic registration upon admission, which has led to an upsurge in problems.
For instance, an elementary school in Kumamoto City advocates each household to be responsible for one activity each year. One reader, a man in his forties who has a first grader, found this policy questionable and refused to join for the 2017 academic year. The school responded by sending a letter to all students’ households in January.
The letter listed penalties for non-PTA households from the 2018 academic year. It indicated that non-members may be unsubscribed from the “reassurance” mailing list that notifies parents of suspicious people in the neighborhood or days when school is canceled due to emergencies. It also implied that the school might inform other parents about who non-members are. The man protests, “This letter implies that non-members will be ostracized.” The school explains that it “needed to clarify the activities supported by the PTA, as several other parents have vocalized their unwillingness to participate.”
While the PTA has been getting a bad rap in recent years, there are movements for reforms. Ryusei Junior High School in Kitakyushu City has been working since the 2017 academic year to ensure that its PTA is non-compulsory and that all representatives are volunteers.
Last April, the school distributed a membership application form to all students’ households. It also put an end to forced elections for board members and called for a one-year volunteer to take the central role in all activities. As a result, 94% of the parents joined PTA and 25 people volunteered to help out.
PTA meeting held at Ryusei Junior High School last April. Almost five times as many parents participated than usual. Kitakyushu City.
The school also streamlined its activities. It reduced the publications of its PTA newsletter and outsourced security for school events to a private company. The parents’ study session was set on the same day as school-organized lectures, and the PTA board meeting was transformed into a meeting for parents and teachers to hold discussions.
“We are always concerned whether we will get enough volunteers,” said the representative, a man in his forties. As part of the reorganization, the number of board members was halved. Still, he believes that the PTA is necessary to keep the school connected with the parents and the district. “We need to think of a way to maintain the PTA, rather than completely getting rid of it,” he emphasized.
In response to the West Japan Daily (The Nishinippon Shimbun) article about a public elementary school in Kumamoto City that distributed a letter indicating that it would penalize non-PTA households, the Kumamoto City Education Board expressed its view to the school that the “(content of the letter) was misleading and not appropriate.”