(Mainichi Japan) March 30, 2012
Editorial: Japan must be more humble toward foreign care workers
Thirty six applicants passed the first care worker exam held for foreign care workers under Japan's Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) with Indonesia and the Philippines. While the passing rate, at 37.9 percent, was higher than the 11.3 percent passing rate of Indonesian and Filipino nurses applying for Japanese nursing qualifications under the same agreements earlier this year, the number is still far from ideal.
Accommodations to the applicants appear to have been made recently in the exams, including the use of furigana superscripts and the additional notation of English translations of disease names. The questions themselves seem to have become more of a practical nature. But still, technical words in Japanese appear frequently, and sentences can be difficult to decipher.
The half-hearted nature of the exam modifications is evident in the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare's review of vocabulary. Expressions have been altered, but they are kept at a halfway point between "technical" and "simple," when "simple" would do just fine. Care workers deal with elderly people whose judgment and communication skills have become impaired. It is important that care workers get information across to their clients in easy-to-understand ways, and to intuit thoughts that clients may have trouble expressing clearly. How can a national exam that is meant to assess whether an applicant is qualified for this job, not employ clear enough language itself?
The health ministry defends its language choices in the exam, citing "the need of care takers to use the language in carrying out duties in cooperation with doctors and nurses," and "the undermining of academic foundations or confusion in the field" as its reasons. To the ministry, does making changes to the medical field itself not occur as a viable option?
Easily-understood language is necessary for patients and third parties to check on the quality of their treatment and ensure transparency. Such methods of communication can also be of use in securing informed consent. In addition, ministry officials must understand the boredom felt by students taking classes at colleges specializing in social welfare, where memorization of abstract knowledge is stressed, even while the knowledge and skills necessary in the field remain in constant flux. What sort of "academic foundations" are so important that they must be protected even if it means sucking the motivation out of students who could be future care givers?
Foreign candidates go through three years of practical training at care facilities in Japan before they are allowed to take the national qualification exam. Because their stay in Japan is limited to four years, in effect, foreign candidates only have one shot at the exam. Meanwhile, even without national certification, Japanese nationals are able to work at care facilities as official employees. Foreign candidates in training, however, are not considered "employees," which means that care facilities cannot receive government subsidies to cover their salaries.
Because of this, the number of foreign candidates has been dropping every year. The care sector is suffering a major labor shortage, many Japanese are being forced to leave their jobs to take care of aging family members, and there seems to be no end to the tragedy of elderly people facing death alone. Our already aging society is coming upon an even bleaker reality.
The health ministry says the care worker certification program is a "special case with regards to the economic partnership agreement, and not a solution to the labor shortage," and is not quite in step with other government ministries and agencies. This contrasts greatly with full-fledged efforts by South Korea and Taiwan to acquire foreign care workers. The care worker candidates who come to Japan are professionals. They have all attained university or other advanced degrees, as well as certification as care workers, in their home countries. We must be more humble and adopt the attitude there is much we can learn from them -- not the other way around.
毎日新聞 2012年3月30日 2時31分