Government-OK’d ethics texts may hit schools

Expert panel recommends subject be made official part of curriculum; critics slam feasibility

Kyodo

An expert panel of the education ministry has recommended that ethics should be upgraded to part of the official curriculum in public elementary and junior high schools and that government-authorized textbooks should be used in teaching the subject, a source said.

Amid skepticism among critics and caution within the ministry and the ruling coalition about the feasibility, the expert panel examining measures to beef up ethics will present a draft report on the proposal at a meeting Monday before putting together its final view by the end of the year.

In February, the government’s education task force, created in response to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s wish for education reform, proposed ethics be built into the school curriculum. This was suggested to foster awareness about social norms in the hope of reducing bullying. It failed to attain endorsement from a higher advisory body.

At elementary and junior high schools, “ethics” is assigned one hour per week for a total of 35 hours per year as “an extracurricular activity.” Teaching materials prepared by the ministry or books picked by teachers are used. There are no officially screened texts, unlike other subjects such as history.

Some education ministry officials questioned whether it would be appropriate to formulate a detailed code of moral conduct that could trample on an individual’s freedom of thought and values.

Because a detailed official code could lead to imposition of specific values by the government, a senior official said the ministry will probably be able to work out an extremely loose set of standards.

However, imprecise standards could cause confusion in schools. A lawmaker from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has been keen to promote ethics “for the public good,” said, “there would be various textbooks from the right and the left. If that happens, there would only be confusion in classrooms.”

Some members of the LDP and its coalition partner, New Komeito, have called for a cautious approach, which could encourage the Central Council for Education to modify the proposal.

The council ditched key ideas in an earlier proposal by Abe’s education task force — using government-authorized textbooks, evaluating students’ knowledge about “moral” conduct through testing and licensing teachers specifically for the subject. The council judged they would be difficult to implement.

There is deep-rooted concern among teachers over the idea of formally evaluating children on ethics.