Pro-Pyongyang schools barred from tuition waiver

by Masami Ito

Staff Writer

Pro-Pyongyang high schools were officially banned Wednesday from the government’s tuition-waiver program, almost three years after every student in Japan, including those at foreign schools, was declared eligible to receive the financial aid.

The decision reflects hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s get-tough stance toward North Korea over various provocative actions, including repeated nuclear tests, missile launches and the abduction of Japanese nationals in the 1970s and 1980s.

But critics have slammed the punishment, calling it “blatant racism” against ethnic minorities and are turning to international organizations, including the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee, to force a reversal.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology on Wednesday revised an ordinance to omit the 10 pro-North Korea high schools that filed for the tuition aid and later informed the schools of the decision.

“The schools are under the influence of the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) and (making them eligible for the program) may violate the Basic Law of Education, which stipulates that ‘education shall not be subject to improper control,’ ” education minister Hakubun Shimomura said Tuesday in explaining the government’s decision.

Japan and North Korea do not have diplomatic ties and Chongryon acts as the de facto diplomatic mission in Tokyo.

The tuition-waiver program, introduced in April 2010 under the then-ruling Democratic Party of Japan, is available to all high schools in the country, including 39 international and ethnic schools with curricula similar to Japanese schools and approved by the education ministry.

But the DPJ kept postponing a decision on what to do about the Chongryon-linked schools. When the Liberal Democratic Party returned to power in December, however, it didn’t wait long to take action.

Yasuko Morooka, a visiting researcher at Osaka University of Economics and Law, expressed outrage over the decision, claiming it violates the law on the tuition-waiver program. Article 1 stipulates that the program aims to give financial aid to contribute to “equal education opportunity.”

“What the LDP did was blatant racism. It clearly revised the ordinance in order to eliminate the North Korean schools, in violation of the tuition-waiver law,” Morooka told The Japan Times. “The government is punishing these children who have nothing to do with the abduction issue or the nuclear tests and violating their human rights. It is completely unfair and shameful.”

The education minister has also cited a lack of public understanding as another reason for the exclusion of pro-Pyongyang schools. But Shimomura himself revealed that a recent survey by the education ministry showed that public opinion was split — about 52 percent were in favor of excluding the schools while 46 percent were against it.

“It was divided in half and there is no way that the government can blame it on public opinion. More importantly, it is extremely dangerous for the education minister to justify violating people’s human rights by using public opinion and understanding as an excuse,” said Morooka, a member of the nongovernmental Japan Network for the Institutionalization of Schools for Non-Japanese Nationals and Ethnic Minorities.

This controversial issue has attracted international criticism and in 2010 the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination urged Japan to “ensure that there is no discrimination in the provision of educational opportunities” and specifically raised concern over the possibility that pro-North Korean schools may be excluded from the program.

And with the members of the IOC delegation coming to Tokyo to evaluate Japan’s bid to host the 2020 Olympics, Morooka intends to bring the issue to their attention as well. The Olympic Charter takes a strong position against all forms of discrimination.

“The Olympics is based on all states and people of all ethnicities being equal . . . . But what the Japanese government did this time was official discrimination against ethnic minorities,” Morooka said. “Given the current domestic political situation, it is difficult to see the decision being reversed, so we are hoping that the international community, especially the IOC, will become a major source of pressure.”

  • Christopher-trier

    Perhaps, then, it is “racism” to accuse the LDP of cutting funding to pro-North Korea schools? After all, schools catering to Koreans in Japan that are not overtly political or favourable to the South are not affected by this. This groundless accusation sounds almost like an import from the USA.

  • Bill Carson

    Schools shouldn’t involve in politics, being pro-north korea school is not the same as being a school for north korean descendants, (promoting their culture, etc) I don`t see how this politic is racism, since any north-korean/descent child and parent are free to attend any other school eligible for tuition waver, the aim here is very obvious towards the schools that SUPPORTS north korean govt.

    I wanna see how the american govt would react if there were a pro-taliban or pro-north korea schools in USA.

    • http://twitter.com/ShinkansenBoy E

      Japanese school, along with every other nations schools, are about politics. Japan whitewashes is militaristic history. US has constant battles over evolution vs intelligent design. No doubt the US also teach a different history of Vietnam war, Korean war, WWII etc than other countries. Schools are for indoctrination.
      In the US, pro N Korean schools would be covered under freedom of speech. Unless the schools were actively harming the US or supporting N Korea materially or monetarily, its legit. Parents have the right to educate their children as they see fit.
      If you have a law that give funding to all school, it should apply equally as the law states.
      Side point: Can you blame the N Koreans who after generation of living are still 2nd class citizens under the law? These kids are decedents of war slaves. Japan should offer them citizenship from birth. This problem would go away.

  • Ben

    a fair plan, as it has nothing to do with where the students are from and everything to do with the way they’re run to indoctrinate children rather than educate them. how about expanding the ruling to cover religious schools? no public money should ever be used to make it easier to brainwash children into believing that something is good. let them be educated freely so that they can come to their decisions themselves.

  • Gavin Young

    It is unfair to the students who need financial support to attend
    school. If Abe wants to hurt NK, let him handle it diplomatically.
    This is hurting Japanese citizens. The school faculty may support NK
    but that doesn’t mean each student does and isn’t it in the constitution
    that people have freedom of speech? Making it hard to attend school is
    going to decrease extremist thinking? The department of education is
    required to provide equal opportunities to receive an education to all
    of its citizens, including those with disparate opinions.

    • Adam H

      The faculty’s freedom of speech isn’t being denied. They are allowed to think what they want. By supporting NK they are choosing of their own free will to forego the financial benefits provided by the government of their host country. :)

      Jokes aside, I do think it’s unfair to make things more difficult for people who are not related to the issues at hand, although I find it curious that schools which support aggressive and dangerous foreign institutions are permitted to operate in Japan.

  • Earl Kinmonth

    “Racism” seems to be a rather bizarre term in this context. So too is the charge of “discrimination.” Foreign nationals of any country are free to use tax supported public schools in Japan. Most Korean nationals in Japan in fact send their children to tax supported public schools. Moreover a child with Korean nationality attending any other “ethnic” high school would benefit from the government subsidy.