Yokohama city achieves zero-waiting list for nursery schools

Yokohama city office said Monday it had reduced the number of children waiting to enroll in nursery schools to zero as of April 1 from 179 in the previous year, meeting its 2010 target of eliminating waiting lists within three years.

The local government said that the reduction of waiting lists in the city, which at one stage had become the longest among all municipalities in Japan, was attributable mainly to its efforts to increase the number of such schools by aggressively encouraging private companies to enter the business.

The city also promoted non-registered day-care facilities that meet the city's standard, which is somewhat more relaxed than the national standard.

According to the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry, similar problems exist in urban areas across the nation on the back of increasing number of households with both parents working, and most local governments are having difficulty addressing the problem.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government is willing to learn from the city in Kanagawa Prefecture, just south of Tokyo, as it intends to address the problem as part of its growth strategy, as the problem has become a major obstacle to women returning to work after childbirth.

But some experts say the rapid increase in the number of such schools could lead to the shortage of qualified nursery teachers and deterioration in the quality of services eventually, as well as increased pressure on the local governments' finance.

In Yokohama, the number of children younger than five on the waiting list for such schools rose to a record 1,190 in 2004, the highest of all municipalities in Japan. The figure hit another record of 1,552 in 2010, prompting Mayor Fumiko Hayashi, a former president of BMW Tokyo Corp. and chairwoman of Daiei Inc., to tackle the problem as a priority issue.

As the city utilized the private sector in increasing the availability of day-care services for children, the number of privately operated nursery schools in Yokohama doubled from its level in April, 2010, and now accounts for about a quarter of the total.

The city also deployed special consultants at ward offices for match-making between those parents seeking schools and such schools in their neighborhood or on their way to work.

The city spent some 49 billion yen since 2010 on setting up nursery schools and allocated more than 76 billion yen for operation of such schools for fiscal 2013 through March next year, it said, adding that it had hired about 2,000 new nursery teachers since 2010.

Prime Minister Abe vowed last month to increase the capacity of nursery schools in Japan by 400,000 in five years through 2017 and reduce the number of children on the waiting list to zero.

According to the labor ministry, there were about 46,127 children on the waiting lists across the nation as of October 2012, although the number of potentially eligible children without nursery school places could be as high as 850,000.