Teachers who are looking for professional development opportunities are in luck: the Japanese government offers a scholarship for teacher professionals who would like to study and pursue research on education in Japan. 

The MEXT Scholarship

The Monbukagakusho Scholarship is a fully-funded government scholarship that covers tuition and school fees and includes a monthly stipend to cover basic housing and living expenses. The scholarship is awarded to foreign students (non-Japanese citizens) by the government’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, and Technology or “Monbukagakusho” (文部科学省) in Japanese. The scholarship is also often shortened as “MEXT Japan” or the “MEXT scholarship.” The scholarship has many categories and is open to over 160 nationalities. The only challenge with this scholarship is that slots are limited and thus can get highly competitive. 

The MEXT Scholarship has two main categories: Undergraduate Level and Graduate Level. There are two subcategories for the Undergraduate Level and four for Graduate Level.

  • Undergraduate Level
    • Undergraduate Student (Bachelor’s Degree)
    • Japanese Studies Student (Short-term Study Exchange)
    • College of Technology Student (Associate Degree)
    • Specialized Training College Student (Diploma, Advanced Diploma)
  • Graduate School Level
    • Research Student (Non-Degree, Master’s Degree, Doctorate Degree)
    • Teacher Training Student (Short-term / Certificate Course)

The Graduate Level students receive ¥143,000 – ¥147,000 as their living allowance. This includes an additional monthly allowance of ¥2,000 to ¥3,000 if the student is studying in a major city like Tokyo where prices are higher than the rest of Japan. Meanwhile, undergraduate level students receive ¥117,000. Tuition and school fees are also paid for by MEXT, as well as the plane ticket to and from the scholar’s home country at the beginning and at the end of the scholarship period.

The scholarship application process is conducted through the Embassy of Japan in the applicant’s home country. The Embassy of Japan conducts the first screening of the applicants through submitted application documents, a written examination (Japanese Language Exam and English Language Exam) and interviews. Note that the results of the Japanese Language Exam only matters if the university and the teacher training program that you are applying for requires a particular level of Japanese language proficiency. After the first screening, the Embassy then recommends selected applicants to MEXT, which then conducts the second screening.

MEXT Scholarship for Teachers: Overview

The Japanese government scholarship for teachers is a non-degree program that focuses on the professional development of teachers who teach in primary or secondary educational institutions or teachers who work in teacher training institutions (teacher of teachers). The scholarship requires that the teachers return to their home country and go back to teaching at their previous place of work at the end of the scholarship period. 

Teacher Training scholars usually begin their studies in Japan in September or October. The application process usually begins in December of the previous year and ends in February. Depending on the program and the university, applicants may have to take a six-month preparatory Japanese language course before the teacher training program proper. The total period of studying in Japan is usually between around one year and six months.

MEXT Scholarship for Teachers: Choosing a University

For this particular category of the MEXT Scholarship, applicants need to choose from universities that have teacher training programs that are accredited by MEXT. This information is listed in a document called “ “Course Guide of Teacher Training Program” which is available on the MEXT website. Here’s a link to the list for the 2020 entry. 

As of 2020, there are 51 universities all across Japan that offer accredited teacher training programs. Some of these universities include national universities such as the University of Tsukuba, Chiba University, Yokohama National University, and Osaka University. On the other hand, there are also universities that specialize in education such as the Miyagi University of Education, Joetsu University of Education, Kyoto University of Education, and the Hyogo University of Teacher Education.

While MEXT will ultimately decide which university the applicants will be going to, aspiring scholars still need to fill out a placement form where they indicate their three preferred universities and their corresponding teacher training programs.

According to MEXT guidelines:

The training mainly consists of educational administration (examples: educational administration and finance, school management), educational methods (examples: classroom teaching, learning system theory, curriculum, and educational assessment), specialized subject research (examples: mathematics, physics, chemistry, and gymnastics), and observational tours and practice (examples: class observations, participation in special educational activities, and tours of educational research facilities). However, as the course contents vary with each university, please make sure to check on the course guide.

When choosing a university, consider the following factors:

  • What is the Japanese Language Ability Requirement at this University?
    • Some universities, like the Hokkaido University of Education, only provide the teacher training program in Japanese. While teacher training scholars who enter Hokkaido University of Education are required to take the six-month preparatory Japanese language course, if you are an absolute beginner, this will not be enough to develop your language skills to participate in the program. 
    • In contrast, while Hyogo University of Teacher Education offers most of their classes in Japanese, it is also possible in some cases to complete the program entirely in English as they offer specializations in English Language and Literature. However, all students entering Hyogo University of Teacher Education are still required to take the six-month preparatory Japanese language course and will continue to take Japanese language classes in parallel to the actual teacher training program.
  • Is there a Research Adviser in this university who can supervise my learning?
    • In Japan, the role of an academic adviser is very important. Consider your research interests and your field of study and check if there is a research adviser who will accept you and your research. This is very important because even if you have an outstanding research proposal, if there is no professor who can supervise your research, that university is likely to reject you. 
    • Finding a research adviser is not only related to your field of interest but they also matter when it comes to the language of learning. For instance, in the Kyoto University of Education, some research advisers can speak English very well, and in some cases, they also speak other foreign languages. If these professors indicate that they are willing to supervise research conducted in English, then this means that it would be best for someone who is not yet proficient in Japanese to consider them as their prospective research advisers. A concrete example is one professor at Kyoto University of Education who specializes in studies on European History. They can supervise research in German, English, or Japanese. However, they only supervise students who are doing research in the same field. There’s also another professor who can supervise in English, given that the field of study is in Computational Physics.
  • What is the cost of living (i.e. accommodations)?
    • As professionals, teacher training scholars already earn from their jobs back home before taking a leave to study abroad. As such, it is wise to consider the financial aspect of where to study. For instance, the Hokkaido University of Education offers shared dormitory accommodations for as low as JPY1,800 per month and single dormitory rooms for JPY 4,300 per month. 
    • Meanwhile, even though Osaka University has a dormitory, they already anticipate that most teacher training students will have to find private housing due to the limited number of units in the dormitory. The average rent around the campus ranges from JPY 30,000 to JPY 70,000 per month. Moreover, apartment-hunting in Japan might be difficult if you don’t speak Japanese because everyone has to hire a real estate agent in Japan upon arrival and most of them only speak Japanese. Other costs to consider when looking for private housing is that landlords usually require a Japanese “guarantor” to conclude the lease, most will require a non-refundable “key money” that can go as high as three month’s worth of rent. Make sure that you understand these conditions, including your own financial situation, so that the allowance that you will receive from MEXT will be enough to cover your expenses.

This Japanese government scholarship for teachers is a really good professional development opportunity for in-service teachers. This program is perfect for teachers in primary or secondary schools who would like to study abroad but also want to keep their current teaching positions in their home country. 

Few other scholarships offer this extent of funding for a short-term study abroad program. And while the teacher training scholarship is not for a degree-program, scholars who finish the course will not only be able to apply what they learned but they will also have better chances of being accepted into other programs or scholarships for further studies, both in their home country and abroad.