(Dec. 12, 2012)

Voters pay special attention to education policy. How should the children who will be responsible for Japan’s future be nurtured? Each political party should present a clear future vision in this regard.

The Liberal Democratic Party listed education as a priority in its policy pledges for the upcoming House of Representatives election. It is one of the party’s four pillars for national revival, along with the economy, diplomacy and quality of life. The party’s proposals include reinstating Saturday classes and reviewing the current system of six years of primary school, three years each of middle and high school and four years of university.

LDP President Shinzo Abe probably wants to try again on education reform, which he aimed at while he was prime minister but left only half-done.


Undue influence of teachers union

In the election campaign, Abe has repeatedly said the Democratic Party of Japan, which is influenced by the Japan Teachers Union, cannot be entrusted with the task of truly reviving the nation’s education.

For example, the national achievement test, which was introduced in 2007 to improve schoolchildren’s academic abilities, was scaled down after the DPJ took power, so that instead of having all students in targeted years participate, the test was given only at a sample of about 30 percent of schools nationwide. The shift came out of consideration for criticism from the teachers union that such a test would invite competition.

Because the sampling method targets a smaller number of schools, detailed analysis of results cannot be conducted. It is understandable that the LDP argues for returning to the full participation format.

Making public high school tuition-free was one of the DPJ-led administration’s pet policy measures. The LDP has proposed this be limited to children whose parents earn under a certain amount.

On the other hand, it is a cause for concern that the LDP itself has made policy proposals that would require large-scale fiscal spending, such as one to make preschool education tuition-free.

Under the current fiscal situation, which borders on crisis, it is essential to secure fiscal resources. If the LDP is serious about returning to power, it should not end up listing policy measures simply to please the public. Rather, we want it to present a realistic policy course.

Meanwhile, we consider the DPJ’s policy pledges on education insufficient, as they offer little in concrete terms.


Unclear role of education boards

In this election, the role of boards of education is another important issue, especially after the functional inability of the Otsu Municipal Board of Education came to light following the suicide of a middle school student in the city who had been bullied.

The LDP proposes that full-time school superintendents appointed by the heads of local governments with the consent of local assemblies should be in charge of education boards.

Regarding this point, the DPJ’s policy pledges say only that the education board system should be reviewed.

Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) suggests the system be abolished, while Your Party proposes that local governments be given discretion over issues concerning the system.

Under the current education board system introduced shortly after the end of World War II, education board members, appointed from among local residents, have a council system to make decisions on such important issues as teacher personnel affairs and the adoption of textbooks, to keep education from being politically influenced by local government heads.

But it cannot be denied that where responsibilities lie has become unclear as the education board system has become a mere formality despite its intended independence. Who will be responsible for education? In-depth discussions should be held on this point.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Dec. 11, 2012)