A Child Care Center for ICU

【The article below is the same as the article that appears in the twelfth issue of the CGS Newsletter. The full Japanese version of this discussion can be viewed on here.】

Ms. Sakai's project is called ICRSU (ICU Child-Rearing Support Union).
e-mail---> icrsu.since2009@gmail.com
URL---> http://groups.google.co.jp/group/ICRSU

In June, 2009, a roundtable talk was held to commemorate the start of the Child Care Center Project, a student initiative to build a day-care facility at ICU.

■About the Child Care Center Project
Izumi NIKI (CGS Staff; IN): Thank you for talking to us about the project.
Natsumi IKOMA (ICU Professor; NI): How many people came to the orientation meeting?
Michiko SAKAI (ICU host of the Child-care Center Project; MS): 35 people came; 54 if you include the people who e-mailed me.
Naomi SUZUKI (CGS Staff; NS): What did you talk about at the meeting?
MS: I think at ICU, the typical responses to the idea of building a child care facility are "You should build one" or "How strong is the need for one?" But I explained that I wanted to discuss other issues as well. Because it isn't a question of just building one ? it's important to make one that is actually usable and meets the needs of its users. The needs of the current students are limited, but in future ICU should become a university that attracts single mothers and fathers, or else the number of applicants won't increase... We have to consider things like that.
NI: That's true. Public child care centers are often not viable for students. So a child care center would be a great asset for the university.
NS: What examples are there of facilities that don't meet the needs of students?
MS: For example, single mothers need to be able to concentrate on work out of term in order to earn tuition fees and living expenses. So a center that is only available during term is basically useless. Actually, even if the center is open during long vacations, it would not be much use if the parent's workplace is far away from the university...that is the problem of ICU being far away from the city and train stations. I don't think we will be able to resolve that problem easily. In any case, I have to take care of my child and do housework during the day and can finally start studying after midnight. So it would really help if there was a child care center at ICU. Then, at least while I'm on campus, I can leave my child at the center and have a fixed period of time to focus on studying. But if the center only accepted children during the parent's class hours, it would be pointless. Then there's the issue of safety. We want it to be a safe place to leave our children.

■Why Public Child Care Centers are Unsuitable for Students
IN: When I had my first child, I was working full-time so I could place her in a public child care center with good conditions. But my priority dropped in the selection criteria when I became a student, so I was forced to place my second child in a private facility.
NS: So students have a lower priority. What's the difference between private and public child care centers?
IN: Child care centers here are classified as "Unsanctioned", "Certified" or "Sanctioned". Sanctioned centers meet national requirements, certified centers meet the criteria set by the Tokyo government (which are more relaxed), and all other nurseries are unsanctioned. Sanctioned centers can be either public or private, but the fees are the same and are set according to the parents' income. For example, in Mitaka city the maximum monthly fee is around 60,000 yen, and it is free for those with no income or those on welfare. But the downside is that your child will not necessarily be accepted into the center of your choice, because selections are made according to your order of priority. Moreover, the extension times are shorter than those of certified or unsanctioned centers as well.
MS: Sanctioned centers close on national holidays and Sundays, and you need to apply for care on Saturdays, so there are many difficult conditions for students.
NS: The sanctioned centers sound good, but at ICU we have classes on national holidays, and period 5-6-7 classes finish later than 7:15pm.

■Why Hasn't ICU Built a Child Care Center?
NI: It seems that financial and safety problems are the major stumbling blocks.
NS: Safety... in other words, liability issues if there's an accident. But because there isn't a child care center at the university, people have to rely on the less trustworthy unsanctioned centers to attend 5-6-7 classes, which places the children at risk. When something happens there, is the university really not responsible?
IN: It might stem from the idea that "you can get the degree later"; somehow it's wrong to try so hard and carry on with your studies if you have children.
NS: Basically, if you're going to have children, you should stay at home for a while to look after them yourself?
MS: But that's only if you can afford it. Even if an accident didn't happen, if I didn't work or have a degree, my family would starve!
All: That's so true...
NI: It's such a difficult problem... iku-kyuu (child care leave) is a wonderful idea, but students don't have any income ? taking leave in that situation makes starving to death a realistic problem. I'm not saying that we should abolish child care leave; it's just that one single type of support is not necessarily the best for all students who has children. In my case, I am not a student or a single mother, but I returned to work after 4 months. But I have sometimes been made to feel that this is strange. People seem to think that you should stay with your children for as long as possible if you have the resources to do so. There is no ideal form of child care support; it really depends on the individual so it's not just a question of what's good or what's bad.
NS: I suppose all these ideas about how children "should be" brought up are getting in the way.

■"Giving Birth Means Giving up University"
IN: There are endless excuses for not making a child care center on campus... I guess the voices of those who need it aren't being heard.
NI: Yes. I think a lot of people think it's not their problem. Men in particular don't seem to understand. Many people seem to think that we just need to build a child care center, without realizing that there are many issues to be considered.
Noe TAKAHATA (ICU undergraduate; Reporter for student newspaper Tankyuu; NT): I think, unfortunately, a lot of the female students at ICU don't really feel the need for a child care facility. The general feeling is that you shouldn't have children during your student years.... Actually, when I read Ms. Sakai's article in the CGS newsletter, I thought "Wow, she's still going to university after she's had a kid!" I was surprised because I was sure that if you'd made up your mind to give birth, you would naturally suspend your studies. I think the majority of people think like that. When I say to my friends, "I want to continue working like my mother did," then they always ask, "What're you going to do about children?"...
NI: In that sense as well, I think there's meaning in having an on-campus child care center. In modern society, nursing, housework and child-care tend to be excluded, so people earning money who are considered to be part of society think they don't have to do such things. Leave all that stuff to people who are outside society, mainly, women.
NS: So we can bring it all back into the center of society.
NT: It will show that you don't have to give up your lives if you have children. Hopefully that will create more options for people in the future.
Shin SAKAMOTO (ICU undergraduate; Reporter for Tankyuu): I think guys need that experience, too. I learned so much when my elder brother had a baby. So the presence of babies on campus is definitely a good idea. It would be good for us all.

■Torn Models ? No-one Knows What's Best for Us
NI: Women only have two role models... "the happy mummy" or the "hard-working, career woman". It's one or the other (laughs). A lot of ICU students want to do both, but they can't see how it can be done.
NS: If you want to do both, you need support, and if there isn't any, you need to make demands.... But because they are both things that "should be done", it might be considered selfish to ask for support from society...
IN: Both working and non-working mothers are under a lot of stress, so I started a group where we could care for each other, but they asked me, "why do you always do things that make it harder for you? If it's difficult for you, why don't you quit your job?"... as if that too was evidence of my selfishness.
NT: I expect it will be difficult to achieve a consensus among mothers. I attended a child care center, but when I went to elementary school, other mothers who had sent their children to kindergardens made snide comments about me. /All: What?!
NI: So there's a conflict between mothers who work and those who don't... you could say it's an issue of social class in the end.
NS: Being forced to choose either the "happy mummy" or the "career woman" is simply unrealistic. I think even if you chose one, you'd still have regrets about the other. If only we could make it possible to change your decision anytime you wanted...though it would be difficult...
IN: In the end we don't know which would be happier... but it's not an easy thing, to choose all over again. There's not much we can do unless we resolve the problem of social class restricting our original choices...

■Overcoming Differences and Appealing to the University
NI: It's impossible to persuade people from every age group and social class. All we can do is to persuade people who will understand that this is a contemporary trend and to lead them to think that they really need to set aside a budget to do this properly.... Student need should serve as an incentive for the university to take action.
MS: Because the need is currently not so great, we need to avoid being brushed aside as a "private circle of mothers". We intend to continue presenting our case with the aim of forming a larger more visible group. We are also considering the potential requirements of a child care center, and how we can make it a profitable venture by collaborating with local governments.
NT: At this rate, I think most students are just going to say "Wow, that sounds so hard." I think we need to find ways to encourage them to think about this as their own problem. Nothing will change unless we make an effort. I think if we explain, they'll understand.
NI: Yes. In any case, no matter what you aim for, education is important. After all, we are a university ? I hope we can actively develop the educational approach.