8-2 Special Needs Schools

8-2-1 Development of Special Needs Schools
8-2-2 Students in Special Needs Schools
8-2-3 Education for Students in Special Needs Schools
8-2-4 Courses After Special Needs Schools
Special Schools (1948-2007)

Since the 1923 imperial ordinance, each prefecture has to have at least one special school for children with visual and hearing impairments. Since 1948, children with visual or hearing impairments have the right to attend special schools, special classes, or regular schools for nine years of compulsory education. In 1957, new special schools for children with orthopedic disabilities, intellectual disabilities and health impairment were established; however, not until 1979 did all children with physical and mental disabilities finally have the right to complete compulsory education. Special education teachers have visited the homes and bedsides of elementary, middle school students. If a child stays in the hospital, he or she receives correspondence education.

“Special schools (tokushu gakkō)” for children with disabilities had three types: 1) schools for children with visual impairment (mōgakkō); 2) schools for children with hearing impairment (rōgakkō); and 3) schools for children with orthopedic disabilities, intellectual disabilities and health impairment (yōgo gakkō). Special schools included preschools, elementary schools, middle schools, and residential high schools. The schools for children with visual or hearing impairments had two- or three-year vocational training programs after high school. The 1954 Law for the Promotion of School Attendance at Special Schools guarantees public subsidies for educational equipment, lunches, and transportation for its students. Almost all middle school graduates from special schools attended high school, mostly the high school section of special schools.

Special Needs Schools (2007-)

In April 2007, “special needs education (tokubetsu shien kyōiku)” started in order to meet the individual needs of children with disabilities, replacing “special education (tokushu kyōiku),” the former educational system for children with disabilities. Special schools for the blind, special schools for the deaf, and special schools for children with orthopedic disabilities, intellectual disabilities and health impairment were integrated into “special needs schools (tokubetsu shien gakkō),” to better serve children with multiple disabilities. Each special needs school usually has the departments of preschool, elementary school, middle school, and high school.

Public Expenditure per Student in Special Needs Schools

In the school year 2016-17, the government spent approximately 7.3 million yen per student in special needs schools, seven times more than those in regular schools (Table 8.2.1).

Table 8.2.1 Annual Public Expenditure on Educational Institutions per Student in SY2016
Annual public expenditure
Elementary school¥931,000
Middle school¥1,084,000
High school¥1,197,000
Special needs school¥7,273,000
(Monbukagakushō 2017h)

Most of children with mild and moderate degrees of physical disabilities or intellectual disabilities prefer attending special needs classes for children with disabilities in regular elementary and middle schools in their communities because it is much more convenient for their parents to take them to nearby schools, and children have more interaction with friends in their neighborhoods after school. Therefore, the majority of elementary and middle school students in special needs schools have severe disabilities. However, most children who graduate from special needs classes in regular middle schools attend high school in special needs schools for physically and mentally disabled children.

The number of students in special needs schools has been increasing rapidly by 1.6 times from 87,000 in 1995 to 138,000 in 2015, especially after the special needs education reform of 2007, despite of the decreasing number of children as a whole. More parents began to trust special needs education and are willing to have their children with disabilities in special needs schools. Responding to the increasing number of students, many special needs schools have been struggling to obtain more classrooms. According to a 2012 survey, 54% of principals of special needs schools, including 63% of schools with children with intellectual disabilities, worried about the shortage of classrooms. Some schools use curtains between the classrooms (NHK Online May 30, 2013)

Table 8.2.2 Number of Students Enrolled in Special Needs Schools: 1990-2015
(Monbukagakushō 2016a)

In 2015, the students in special needs schools (138,000) attended the preschool department (1%), the elementary school department (28%), the middle school department (23%) and the high school department (48%)(Figure 8.2.2; Table 8.2.3). The number of students in the high school department (66,000) is twice as many as that of the middle school department (31,000) because those students who graduated from special needs classes in regular middle schools attended the high school department of special needs schools.

Most students in special needs schools (90%) had intellectual disabilities, one fourth (23%) physical disabilities, 15% health impairments, 6% hearing impairment and 4% visual impairment. Children with multiple disabilities are counted repeatedly in each disability category (Figure 8.2.3; Table 8.2.2). Among all 138,000 students in special needs schools, 28% of them (38,000) have multiple disabilities (Monbukagakushō 2016a). The increasing number of children with multiple disabilities was one of the reasons for the 2007 reform of special needs education.

Table 8.2.3 Students in Special Needs Schools by Disability Type in 2015
TotalPreschoolElementary SchoolMiddle SchoolHigh School
Visual impairment832,2695,7164.121514.31,7674.51,2294.02,5053.8
Hearing impairment1182,8598,6256.31,17478.33,1398.11,9436.32,3693.6
Intellectual disabilities74529,569124,14690.021814.534,73789.427,98790.061,20492.1
Physical disabilities34512,24832,08923.31328.813,54134.98,31626.710,10015.2
Health impairments1457,56820,05014.5322.17,39019.05,60418.06,92410.4
Teachers & the Staffs95,081
Note: Children with multiple disabilities are counted repeatedly in each disability category.
(Monbukagakushō 2016a)

Students in special needs schools study according to the “individualized education plans (IEP)” in a much smaller class. The high school department provides vocational courses. The ratio of students per teacher in special schools is 1.7, as of 2015. The number of students per class in special schools was three in 2011, though the maximum number is set six (Monbukagakushō 2016a; Monbukagakushō 2016b).

Teachers in special needs schools are required to have special needs school teacher’s license, in addition to the regular teacher’s license. In 2014, 73% of teachers have a license of special needs education in 2014 and the rate of those teachers has increased from 61% in 2006 (Monbukagakushō 2016a).

Education for Children with Physical Disabilities

Prefectural special needs schools for children with visual impairments provide education from preschool to high school. Students learn academic subjects in Braille. Children with weak vision use corrective lenses and teaching materials in large print. High school education has vocational-track courses for tuning pianos, public health and therapy, acupuncture, and massage, in addition to the general high school courses. These schools have three years of special vocational courses after high school.

Children with hearing impairments can attend preschool, elementary, middle, and high schools, and 2-year special vocational courses in each prefecture. In addition to academic courses, high schools have courses to train students for careers as hairdressers and dental technicians, printing technicians, and cleaners.

The curriculum for children with physical disabilities and sickly children includes training courses for independent activities, in addition to a curriculum that is similar to that of regular schools. In the independent-activities courses, children with physical disabilities have physical therapy.

Education for Children with Intellectual Disabilities

For children with intellectual disabilities, subject matter can be arranged in accordance with their individual cognitive abilities. In 1962, the Course of Study outlined its first educational guideline for children with IQs between 50 and 60, in order to help them lead independent adult lives (Monbushō 1991). As the number of children with severe intellectual disabilities grew, a new course, called the “Course of Daily Living (seikatsuka)” was created in the 1970 Course of Study. This course teaches children how to handle their daily chores, such as going to a toilet, eating, and changing clothes.

Many children with intellectual disabilities attend special needs classes in regular elementary and middle schools, and some children with epilepsy or children under medication may also go to special needs schools for children with intellectual disabilities. Regular classes are considered unsuitable for children with intellectual disabilities.

Since 1972, the Course of Study has set guidelines for high school education for children with intellectual disabilities. The goal of high school education for these children is to teach reading, writing, listening, counting, and shopping. High school education includes one or more vocational subjects, one special course designed by the school, a comprehensive learning course, and a training course for independent activities. In addition, there are elective foreign language and information science courses. Vocational courses teach sewing, cleaning, handicrafts, cooking, interior design, home care, planting, animal husbandry, food processing, ceramics, wood working, metal working, stone working, weaving, printing, the management of commodities, sales, cleaning, and clerical work.


Almost all students of middle school department (96% in 2015) attend high school department of special needs schools. In 2015, 21,000 students graduated from the high school department of special needs schools. 85% high school graduates had intellectual disabilities and 9% had physical disabilities (Figure 8.2.4; Table 8.2.4).

After the graduation, two thirds (63%) entered/commuted to social welfare institutions/medical institutions and 29% went to work. Very few went to higher education or education training institutions (Figure 8.2.5; Table 8.2.4).

Two thirds of graduates with intellectual disabilities (63%, 11,000), 85% of those with physical disabilities (1,600), and 56% of those with health impairments (230) went to institutions/medical institutions after the graduation. On the other hand, 0.4% of graduates with intellectual disabilities, 3% of those with physical disabilities and 6% of those with health impairments were admitted to colleges, including specialized training colleges. Among the graduates with visual impairment and/or hearing impairments, 33% of the students with visual impairment and 39% of those with hearing impairment entered two- or three-year vocational courses in special needs schools, universities, or specialized training colleges.

Among 18,000 graduates with intellectual disabilities, 63% (11,000) entered/commuted to social welfare institutions/medical institutions, 32% (5,500) went to work (Figure 8.6.6; Table 8.2.4). 5,500 graduates with intellectual disabilities found jobs in such as service (23%), manufacturing process (23%), carriage and cleaning (22%) and sales (14%)(Monbukagakushō 2016a).

Table 8.2.4 Courses After Special Needs Schools by Disability Type in 2015
GraduatesHigher EducationEducational Training InstitutesEmploymentInstitutions/Medical InstitutionsOthers
Visual impairment3021.51009832.5134.34916.211036.53210.6
Hearing impairment4682.310018339.1286.018038.56614.1112.4
Intellectual disabilities17,52285.3100730.42671.55,51531.511,00262.86653.8
Physical disabilities1,8298.9100492.7321.71065.81,55384.9894.9
Health impairments4112.0100256.1368.85914.423056.06114.8
(Monbukagakushō 2016a)
Employment of People with Disabilities

People with disabilities are legally guaranteed equal employment opportunity and are eligible for a special employment quota. The 1960 Law for the Employment Promotion of People with Disabilities and its revisions stipulate that public and private employers hire a certain percentage of people with disabilities. Employers who do not meet this requirement are liable to be fined, and employers who do meet the requirement receive subsidies. The revised Law of 1997 included people with intellectual disabilities were included in the quota system for the first time.

Public organizations are required to meet a 2.5% quota, and private corporations of 45.5 full-time employees and more are obligated to meet a 2.2% quota for people with physical and mental disabilities. People with mental disabilities were, for the first time, included in the quota system. The Public Employment Security Office (Hello Work) and the Regional Employment Centers for People with Disabilities provide employment counseling, vocational training, and employment rehabilitation measures for all disabled people. They learn in vocational training schools for disabled people and the Centers for the Development of Abilities and Skills.

Students with Disabilities in Higher Education

The number of students with disabilities in universities, junior colleges and colleges of technology has increased by 5.4 times from 5,000 (0.2%) in 2006 to 27,000 (0.9%) in 2016 (Nihon Gakusei 2015b; Nihon Gakusei 2018c). In the United States, 11% of undergraduate students were those with disabilities in 2011 (NCES 2017).

In 2016, 27,000 students with disabilities (0.9% of all students), attended 899 higher education institutions. Those students were diagnosed with health impairment (22%), physical/motor disabilities (18%), developmental disabilities (18%), hearing impairment/speech and language disorder (12%), visual disabilities (5%), multiple disabilities (2%), and others (22%)(Figure 8.6.8; Table 8.2.5).

Table 8.2.5 Students with Disabilities in Higher Education in 2016
Health Impairment9,38834.4
Mental disabilities6,77624.9
Developmental Disabilities4,14815.2
Physical/motor disabilities2,6599.8
Hearing impairment/speech and language disorder1,9177.0
Visual disabilities7902.9
Multiple disabilities3931.4
(Nihon Gakusei 2018c)

Among 3,690 university graduates with disabilities in 2016, more than half (53%) obtained full-time employment and 8% went to graduate schools, while 5% obtained temporary jobs and 16% neither found a job or went to schools (Nihon Gakusei 2018c). On the other hand, among 560,000 university graduates as a whole, three fourth of university graduates (75%) gained a full-time job, 5% obtained temporary jobs and 9% neither found a job or went to schools, while 11% went to graduate schools in 2016 (Monbukagakushō 2018a).


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