New education chief champions egalitarian ideal

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The state should continue providing prefectures with subsidies to help cover teacher salaries to ensure equal levels of education across the country, the new education minister said Tuesday.

Nariaki Nakayama, 61, is a former Finance Ministry official who last served as deputy secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party before being named head of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry in the new Cabinet formed this week.

Without state subsidies for education, “some 40 prefectures may lack the financial resources for education. This would probably widen the gap between rich and poor prefectures in academic standards at the compulsory education level,” he said.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi plans to transfer 3 trillion yen in tax money to local governments by the end of fiscal 2006 to give them greater control over spending and policymaking.

In return, prefectural governors adopted a plan last month to forgo 3.2 trillion yen in state subsidies over the next two fiscal years, including 850 billion yen for junior high school teacher salaries.

“I think the (subsidy reduction) plan is necessary,” said Nakayama, a member of the House of Representatives. “But it must not lead to a deterioration of education.”

He said the central government should continue to assume responsibility for elementary and junior high school education by providing sufficient subsidies for salaries.

In fiscal 2004, the state allocated a total of 2.5 trillion yen in subsidies for local governments to cover half of school staff salaries at public elementary and junior high schools.

Nakayama also said he hopes to submit a bill to revise the Fundamental Law of Education at the next ordinary Diet session, which starts in January.

The 1947 law set the basic foundation for educational policy in postwar Japan. Last year, the Central Council for Education suggested the law be revised to foster patriotism.

Currently, the LDP is discussing how to revise the law with its coalition partner, New Komeito. But they have yet to agree on some points, including whether patriotism should be included as a key component of the law.

But the two parties decided earlier this month to let the education ministry begin drafting the bill on the points the two parties have agreed on, including further equal education opportunities.

Nakayama voiced his support for revisions to promote patriotism. “I think that as we now live in a globalized society, it’s necessary to have an image of the Japanese in which (students) can have pride and confidence,” he said.