Below, please see a summary of AJET’s meeting with The Council for Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR), the Ministry of Education (MEXT), the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA), and the Ministry of Internal Communication (MIC). AJET’s questions are in italics, followed by summaries of the responses.
Peer Review of the PA System – Written by Erica Nakanishi Stanis, Rory Conaty, and Denise Schlikbernd
Presented and Interpreted by Erica Nakanishi Stanis.
Before AJET began their questions, CLAIR offered this statement to the collaborators on the PA Report:
“Thank you very much for the report about the dilemmas that first year PAs face and also the response after the 311 disaster. We have a system in place for when accidents take place, whether it’s injuries or traffic accidents, things like that. It was difficult to anticipate a disaster of this magnitude, and I think it’s left us with a lot of food for thought. I think we need to put together the lessons we learned from the disaster this year. Even though we, of course, don’t want something like this to happen again, I think we need to take the lessons learned in a case study and use that for the future.”
AJET: What kind of preparation or assistance is currently offered to short-listed FYA PAs before their arrival in Japan? Are there any steps, such as the recommendation AJET made to include information and on “opt out” box for the PA position on the application form that CLAIR, MOFA, or any of the other ministries can take to offer FYA PAs-to-be advance knowledge of the position?
Regarding the first question about the preparation that is provided for first year pas, CLAIR stated that one thing they do is put effort into the workshops for FYA PAs in Tokyo orientation. They have 2 workshops slots devoted for FYA PAs on the first day of Tokyo Orientation. They have been working on making these as useful as possible in recent years and it’s something that they would like to continue to work on.
Regarding the second point, for the application form, CLAIR agreed that it was a good idea, but there were several things to take into consideration. For one, if, for example, not enough people checked that they would be willing to be first year PAs, this would make the placement of those new JETs very difficult. Second, when people are applying for the JET Programme, the biggest thing on their mind is, of course, being accepted to the JET Programme. Even if there is an explanation on the application form that says “checking this box or not checking the box won’t work against you in any way,” just judging by how people think, most people would be likely to check yes, just because they wouldn’t want to put themselves at a disadvantage in the selection process. So, because of those issues, CLAIR thinks it would be difficult to implement something like that.
AJET: Thank you very much. In response to the survey question, our data shows that thirteen out of eighteen people who were appointed as FYA PAs said they would have still accepted their position.
As a way to sort of work around that issue, perhaps it would be possible to say: You can check this box, it won’t affect your application, but you may still be appointed as PA in the event that there are not enough PAs who respond, or however you would phrase it, in such a way that it shows them that it might still happen, but at least they know what the job is. Is there any way we could consider this sort of option by using this sort of method?
CLAIR suggested that when people are applying to the Programme, one thing they could possibly consider doing is not providing a choice or whether or not JETs would like to be a PA, but as PA duties are one aspect of job duties, they could ask “are you interested in translating/interpreting,” “Are you interested in economic exchange,” in the same way, they could ask “Are you interested in counseling/PA duties?” They could consult with MOFA about whether or not something like that would be possible. But regardless, placement would depend on the needs of the COs, and whether or not CLAIR would be able to meet those preferences.
AJET: Two part follow-up question. Would that explanation include a description including a list of the benefits and drawbacks of being a PA? Would CLAIR be able to take into account that person’s background, whether or not they had any counseling experience, or working in leadership rules when providing candidates to COs?
CLAIR responded that the first question would, of course, be up to MOFA and the overseas embassies and consulates, considering their time restraints. Regarding the second point, CLAIR does its best to meet the wishes of COs, along with the wishes of JETs, and tries to make placements that are best as possible for both parties. Of course when placements are made now, it’s already the case that COs take into consideration things like leadership experience, counseling experience, etc. In the future, CLAIR could see if they could make this even clearer when asking COs about whether or not they want someone with counseling experience, or a psychology background.
AJET: [Skip question 2 due to time, go to question 3] Has CLAIR considered, given that there has not been a significant decrease in first year PA numbers since 2008, and considering the concern that PAs voiced about the gap between August and October PA conference as well as the gap between the October conference and the June/July conference, returning to a PA conference schedule similar to the one used until 2008-2009?
CLAIR responded that based on AJET’s report, they understand very well that the current schedule imposes some difficulties for JET PAs. They also think it’s also important to take into consideration the schedule of Japanese PAs, whose fiscal year starts in April. Because of taking that into consideration, they are not at present considering changing the schedule back to what it was before. In terms of what they can do to support first year PAs as best as possible, they think we should continue putting efforts into the FYA PA workshops at Tokyo Orientation, and providing any individual support possible in the month between when they first arrive and the first PA conference.
AJET: In response to that, have you seen an increase or change in number of Japanese PAs participating in PA conferences since that change in 2008?
CLAIR stated that they don’t know whether it has changed significantly, but any decrease might have been due to the budgets of contracting organizations.
AJET: Will CLAIR be revising PA guidelines to describe some of the duties PAs are expected to take on in the event of a disaster or another emergency. If so, what revisions are intended; are there steps that CLAIR and PAs can take to increase COs’ and JETs’ awareness during such circumstances? We will be doing Question 4 and 5 together, Question 5 asks about amendments to the PA handbook, whether or not case studies would be added.
CLAIR responded that they are anticipating that it’s still going to be a couple of years before there is a major overhaul done on the PA handbook. However, in the meantime, until that overhaul happens, it would be possible to put together some supplementary materials about the kinds of duties that PAs have taken on, and could expect to take on during disasters, whether its concerning safety of JETs, translating websites, putting information into foreign languages, and that they could consider distributing it.
AJET: Question number six: What information did MOFA provide to incoming JETs regarding the March 11 disasters prior to their arrival in Japan? Did CLAIR provide any additional information to JETs whose placement was in areas affected by the disasters? What challenges did CLAIR and MOFA face when providing that information?
MOFA responded by stating that following the March 11th disaster, there was a great deal of concern among outgoing participants regarding the safety of Japan. In response to this, they provided information through the overseas embassies and consulates explaining why Japan is safe. They believe firmly in the importance of providing safety related information after a disaster in a timely and accurate fashion, and along with other related organizations, they put every effort into providing useful information through the internet and other means during that time.
CLAIR responded by stating that JETs are given a number of different documents from CLAIR and the three ministries in the months before their departure. To all new JET Programme participants, there were two documents that were provided. One was created by the three ministries and CLAIR together, and one just by CLAIR, and this was in Q&A format about the situation in Japan, the Japanese government, safety concerns, etc. In addition to that, for new JETs that were going to be placed in heavily affected prefectures, if the COs or host/designated cities had additional materials they would like to provide to those JET participants, that was also provided through the overseas embassies and consulates.
AJET: CLAIR has a variety of responsibilities in the aftermath of major disasters. What direction and support can PAs reasonably expect to receive from CLAIR? What limitations do CLAIR, MIC, MOFA, and MEXT face that PAs should know about in advance?
CLAIR answered in regards to both question seven and eight. Eight referred to the timeliness of information provided to PAs and JETs, and whether or not there is anything that can be done to speed up that information.
CLAIR believes it’s important to divide the type of information provided into two different categories, one is simply objective information about the information, and the other is stance or position of the JET Programme as whole. In regards to factual, objective information about the disaster situation, CLAIR has been reflecting, and needs to continue to reflect on how they can continue to provide that information to PAs and JETs in general. That’s something they will try to do faster. However, if it is something regarding the stance, or the position of the JET Programme as whole, because it requires coordination with the other three ministries, inevitably there is going to be a time lag that occurs there, so hopefully PAs and JETs know that time lag exists.
AJET: Is it possible then for CLAIR to include something in PA handbook, along with the other editions that says something to the effect of “That because of x or y considerations, it will take x amount of time to respond in such a way. In the last case, we had this time frame for response and we had this kind of info we gave. Would that be possible to add?”
CLAIR responded that they felt during the earthquake and nuclear disaster, the information provided in the PA handbook might really be sufficient in all cases. Something they would like to do while the JET PAs and Japanese PAs in the affected prefectures are still here, would be to get case studies and information from them, in addition to all other useful info regarding disaster that they would like to add to the PA handbook. Regarding time lag on the part of the three ministries and CLAIR, it’s not necessarily a good example, so how they would put that in writing, is something that they would have to think about.
MIC stated that PAs do play a very important role, especially in situations such as a disaster. So MIC’s position on the matter would be that they would have to consult this with CLAIR.
MOFA stated that there are aspects of disaster response that could be seen as inadequate. If a similar situation were to arise in the future, they would cooperate with CLAIR and other related ministries to provide the best response possible.
MEXT stated that, as they deal mainly with education matters, but two JET ALTs lost their lives in the earthquake and tsunami, and many other ALTs following the tsunami took refuge to other areas, so this is also an issue that they need to think about and keep a record of what happened, and decide how to handle issues like this in the future.
AJET: At a press conference on March 13, then Chief Cabinet Secretary Edano Yukio stated that there would be more news released in foreign languages to assist foreign residents, many of whom faced language barriers that prevented them from accessing the same resources as Japanese people. However, to the best of AJET’s knowledge, very little multi-lingual information was released in the days and weeks following this statement. In light of the continually growing numbers of foreign residents, have MOFA, MIC, or CLAIR considered how they will provide foreign language information to non-Japanese residents (including JETs and PAs) in the immediate aftermath of future disasters?
CLAIR explained that it was their position that all JET Programme participants understand either English or Japanese, so they feel that providing information in those two languages is sufficient on the part of CLAIR. Also, providing information in other languages, due to their resources and abilities, would not be realistic. Also there is some other information they provide via the internet. One is the multilingual living website which is run by CLAIR. Also they provide information for the foreign resident disaster information site, which was originally established by the multilingual support center for the Tohoku Center, and they recently took over operation of. These websites both provide disaster related information in eleven different languages, and as this is a good resource available, JETs are encouraged to make use of them.
AJET; Is it possible for CLAIR to provide that information in the materials distributed to PAs?
CLAIR stated that they would provide that information to PAs.
MIC recognized the importance of providing information to people irrespective of their nationality in a smooth and effective manner, and that they would continue to discuss this issue of providing information in times of a disaster. Although when it comes to providing information to the foreigners in Japan language can be a problem. They mentioned that the Fire Disaster and Management Agency (FDMA) is actually considering providing information in Chinese, Korean, and Portuguese, in addition to the existing English website. Their website should be updated before the end of this fiscal year. He also mentioned that the cabinet office has been offering information on Twitter since March 14th of this year. CLAIR also explained about the multilingual support center at JIAM. It may not have been enough information for foreigners, but it may have been that the problem was not just enough information, but the problem was that foreigners were not really aware that this information was available. However, MIC does recognize the importance of information provision after a disaster, and they will continue discussing this with CLAIR.
AJET: An additional suggestion, we understand you have many languages to provide information, but if you could also consider adding simple Japanese, for people who don’t speak the languages that can be provided, but who speak some Japanese?
The representative from MIC stated that he would make sure that the Disaster and Management agency gets AJET’s message.
MOFA stated that they make efforts into providing some information in foreign languages; however, MOFA is not responsible for the domestic distribution of news in foreign languages. They actually work to provide objective information tailored to the interests of non-Japanese people in an easy to understand fashion in multiple languages. As a specific example, they created a special section of their homepage, devoted to continually providing disaster related information in four languages: Japanese, English, Korean, and Chinese. In addition, their embassies and consulates overseas provide disaster related information in English and 39 other languages.
End of Discussion