Japan to cut teachers' working hours amid 'serious' surge in mental health woes
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Japan to cut teachers' working hours amid 'serious' surge in mental health woes

The number of teachers who took leave due to mental illness at public schools in Japan climbed to a record high of 6,539 in fiscal 2022, a government survey showed, with an increased workload amid the Covid-19 pandemic cited as a possible factor.

The figure for the year to last March was up 642 from the previous year, marking the second straight annual increase. The sum accounted for 0.71 per cent of all teachers at primary, junior and high schools as well as special needs schools, or 1 in 140 individuals, the education ministry said.

The number of teachers who took leave due to mental illness had fluctuated at around 5,000 in recent years, but it surged by more than 1,300 in two years since fiscal 2020, which saw the start of the spread of the coronavirus.

Education experts said the rise was partly due to an increased workload caused by the pandemic, such as the need to take infection prevention measures, but they also cited a rising trend in complaints from students' parents.

A shortage of schoolteachers has been a serious problem in Japan, with young people avoiding entering a profession seen as having a heavy workload, the experts said, while also noting that more teachers are taking leave due to illness or childbirth.

Recognising the situation as a "serious challenge", the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry will promote workstyle reform, including reducing paperwork and addressing long working hours.

By age group, the largest number of teachers were in their 30s at 1,867, followed by 1,786 in their 50s, 1,598 in their 40s and 1,288 in their 20s, according to the survey covering the personnel situation.

Meanwhile, the number of teachers punished or reprimanded for sexual violence stood at 242 in fiscal 2022, remaining above 200 for the 10th consecutive year, with male teachers accounting for 98 per cent of the total, the same survey showed.

Among them, 119 were punished for offences against students, with 42 teachers having sexual intercourse with a student, followed by 32 punished for molestation and 21 for peeping or voyeurism, it said, adding around 30 per cent of cases of misconduct were carried out during working hours including break time and during club activities.

The number of teachers punished for inflicting corporal punishment - another major problem involving teachers in Japan - totalled 397, up 54 from fiscal 2021 and reversing the downward trend, the report said.

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