It is clear from today’s news (posted below) that while the State is often determined to separate Religion from Education, it cannot separate Politics from Education. The politics of a government inevitably permeates every aspect of education, particularly education in public schools. This is true whether the society is islamic, socialist, communist or democratic. The content in Japan’s textbooks are often the central issue in diplomatic spats (between China and Japan or between Korea and Japan)…as is the case with the issue highlighted in today’s news byline.

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Education ministry: Takeshima Japanese soil Teachers handbook to say isles claimed by Tokyo, Seoul belong to Japan

The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Education, Science and Technology Ministry will incorporate a description of the Takeshima islets in the Sea of Japan, over which Japan and South Korea claim sovereignty, as “Japanese territory” in its handbook on the revised curriculum guideline for social studies classes at middle schools, The Yomiuri Shimbun learned Saturday.

The previous curriculum guidelines and handbooks have only referred to the territorial dispute between Japan and Russia over the Kunashiri, Etorofu, Shikotan and Habomai islands, known as the northern territories in Japan.

The Takeshima islets, which are under the administrative jurisdiction of Okinoshimacho, Shimane Prefecture, are known as Dokdo in South Korea.

Textbook publishers produce textbooks based on the guidelines and the handbooks. Descriptions of the Takeshima islets vary among the textbooks, so the latest decision likely will influence the production of textbooks based on the revised curriculum guideline.

The handbook is revised in accordance with the revision of curriculum guidelines, which is carried out about every 10 years. The ministry produces a handbook for each subject taught in primary, middle and high schools to explain in detail the curriculum guidelines’ contents.

The ministry treats the curriculum guidelines as the standards by which it screens textbooks. However, it also regards the handbooks, especially the handbooks’ explanations about how the curriculums should be understood, as quasi standards.

Along with the curriculum guidelines, the handbooks are also used by teachers to help them teach the subjects.

The ministry released the revised curriculum guidelines for primary, middle and high schools in March, and it is now in the process of compiling the new handbooks, which are expected to be completed between June and July.

The handbook on the curriculum guideline for social studies classes at middle school will state that the Takeshima islets are Japanese territory.

Concerning the description of the sovereignty of the islets, then Education, Science and Technology Minister Nariaki Nakayama said at a session of the House of Councillors Committee on Education, Culture and Science in March 2005, “It should be precisely mentioned in the next curriculum guideline.”

In response, the ministry discussed following Nakayama’s advice.

However, when the revised social studies curriculum guideline was publicly announced in March, it did not state that Japan has sovereignty over the islets.

According to sources close to the government, political considerations at the time were behind the decision not to include a description asserting Japanese sovereignty over the islets.

The inauguration ceremony of South Korean President Lee Myung Bak was held in February, and his visit to Japan in April had been announced.

As Tokyo wanted to improve the bilateral relationship with Seoul under Lee’s new administration, the sources said the ministry decided not to include the description in the revised curriculum guideline to avoid friction with South Korea.

But the decision dissatisfied some members of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

The ministry therefore decided to reincorporate the statement that Japan has sovereignty over the islets into the handbook as the latest round of events on the two countries’ diplomatic agenda has been completed.