R.P. training nurses in Japanese / Caregivers sent to Japan under EPA get hand to overcome language hurdle

MANILA--The Philippine government has begun language classes to help nurses wanting to go and work in Japan overcome the high language barrier, and even pays them to enroll.
The project is aimed at boosting the rate of Philippine applicants who pass Japan's national nursing examination and increasing the number of nurses seeking a career in Japan under the economic partnership agreement (EPA) between the two countries.
During one recent Japanese class, a teacher held up a panel with kanji for difficult words, such as "roasha" (the hearing impaired) and "nenza" (sprain), while the students read the words aloud in unison.
The Philippines' Technical Education and Skills Development Authority conducted a four-month Japanese course on a trial basis, ending in early September. Most participants studied while working at hospitals. During their language training, they acquired basic Japanese conversational skills, and learned medical terms and about Japan's workplace culture.
Participant Ana Melissa Cana said she received a job offer from a Japanese hospital based on the EPA deal, but declined it shortly before leaving for Japan. She said she was suddenly scared by the thought of living in Japan and taking the examination in Japanese.
However, the 31-year-old nurse is now determined to try again, as she still wants to work in Japan, which is known for its excellent medical technology.
But the first step, she said, is tackling the Japanese language.
Manila apparently has growing concerns that it may fail in its role of sending nurses to Japan as outlined in the economic partnership agreement, prompting it to take action. In February, 59 Philippine nurses made their first attempt at Japan's national nursing exams; only one passed. If nurses on the EPA program fail to pass the exam for three straight years, they must return home.
Questions have been raised over the current EPA arrangement, which offers foreign nurses only six months of Japanese language lessons.
To turn the situation around, the Philippine government has allocated 2.2 million peso (4.4 million yen) to launch the Japanese program and has paid as many as 75 participants in the program an allowance of 6,000 peso a month.
The government now appears to be considering participation in the program when selecting nurses to be sent to Japan. It hopes this will encourage capable nurses to go to Japan, which is a less popular destination than Western nations--where English is used more commonly--among many nurses.
Manila also is reportedly considering inviting more applicants and increasing class time.
The EPA between Japan and the Philippines took effect in December 2008. In May last year, the Philippines began dispatching nurses and caregivers to Japan. Under the EPA deal, Japan accepts up to 1,000 such nurses and caregivers for two years, but only 436 have been sent so far.
In Japan, the high cost of getting foreign nurses up to speed because of the language hurdle has deterred some potential employers from hiring them. The EPA will be reviewed next year, and Tokyo likely will seek to tweak the current system.
Viveca Catalig, a deputy administrator at the Philippine Overseas Employment Administration, acknowledged his country's own effort has its limits, and said he hopes Japan will consider expanding its language training and easing requirements for nurses in order not to disappoint motivated Philippine applicants.