To reverse the increase in the number of children waitlisted to enter nursery schools, the government plans to offer incentives to the estimated 700,000 qualified nursery school teachers now on leave or otherwise not working, government sources said Saturday.
The number of children on waiting lists for spots at nursery schools rose to 23,167 as of April 1, marking the first increase in five years, according to data by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare.
The government has stepped up efforts to build and equip nursery facilities around the country to realize Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s goal of eliminating that waiting list, a drive hampered by a severe shortage of teachers.
Beginning next April, the government plans a number of incentives aimed at getting as many as possible of these qualified teachers to return to work through such measures as subsidizing childcare fees for their own children, the sources said.
Many qualified teachers are reluctant to go back to work once they leave to give birth and raise children, due in part to the difficulty of balancing work and family.
The staff shortage also reflects the low average monthly salary of about 210,000 yen ($1,750) for nursery school teachers in Japan, which is more than 10,000 yen below the average wage across the board.
Under the planned scheme starting in fiscal 2016, nursery school teachers with preschool children who want to return to work will receive subsidies amounting to half of their own childcare fees. Their children will also be given priority for admission to childcare facilities, the sources said.
The government is also considering offering 100,000 yen to nursery teachers with or without children, to use buying items needed to return to work such as clothing after being out of the workforce.
The number of nursery teachers has been increasing, but the health ministry estimates that Japan will need an additional 69,000 teachers over the five-year period through fiscal 2017.
To secure enough teachers, the government also plans to conduct its national certification exam for nursery school teachers twice a year starting in fiscal 2016, rather than once annually.
There is strong demand for childcare services for those under the age of 3 in Japan, and urban areas have more children who cannot enter day-care centers compared with rural areas.