Majority of Japan’s textbook publishers breach government review rule: education ministry

Kyodo

A majority of the 22 textbook publishers for public primary and secondary schools in Japan have breached a government rule involving their approval, according to an announcement Friday by the education ministry.

Twelve of the firms showed publications prepared for government review to more than 5,000 teachers and local education officials in violation of censorship regulations, with most of the companies offering cash to nearly 4,000 teachers, according to the ministry.

Following the revelation in October about Sanseido Co., one of the publishers, having shown textbooks then under government censor review to school principals — seeking their opinions in return for cash gratuities — the ministry asked the publishing houses to conduct in-house probes and report the results.

The ministry’s regulations prohibit publishers from showing teaching materials under review to others as a way to block interference in the censorship process. The ministry has also been calling on the companies to refrain from excessive publicity campaigns for their textbooks.

The publishers said their actions were intended to improve textbooks and teaching manuals rather than influence the selection of materials for use in schools. Some publishers were found to have sent gifts to local government and education board officials involved in public school textbook selection.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology indicated that it will consider suspending the censor review process for any textbook found to have been exposed to outsiders too early, thereby withholding the approval necessary for adoption by schools.

According to the ministry, 12 of the 22 publishers showed unfinished textbooks to a total of 5,147 people, and 10 of the 12 offered cash ranging from several thousand yen to ¥50,000 each to 3,996 people. As some people declined, it remains unknown how many people actually received cash.

Tadashi Mochizuki of the ministry’s Textbook Division said it is “a very regrettable act” for companies tasked to produce textbooks for public schools.

Tokyo Shoseki Co., the country’s largest publisher of textbooks, showed its unfinished products to 2,269 outsiders, more than any other publisher. In a statement, the company said, “We are deeply sorry for causing suspicions about the fairness and transparency of textbook selection and severely undermining trust in textbooks used in public education.”

Osamu Yaosaka, a professor of school administration at Kyushu University, expressed surprise about the large number of companies that were involved. “It’s evidence that this practice has been undertaken for many years,” he said.

“They are facing increasing competition for market share as the number of children has been declining. If a major company does it, others may feel compelled to follow even if they are aware of a rule violation,” Yaosaka said.

Censor review and textbook selection are conducted roughly once every four years. Many publishers showed textbooks individually or collectively to teachers and officials during the academic years 2009 and 2013, when censors examined textbooks for primary schools, and in the academic years 2010 and 2014, when lower secondary school textbooks were reviewed.

Along with considering strict action against violators, the ministry also indicated that it will explore the possibility of allowing publishers to present their products to school boards prior to textbook selection. It remains to be seen if this will lead to resolving the problem.

Censorship processes are not open to the public. The education minister issues approval or disapproval for use at schools after a panel of experts examine textbooks submitted by publishers. Public schools use a publication selected by a limited number of local government officials and the local school board.

The Japan Federation of Publishing Workers’ Unions said the current censorship process is “extremely rare in that it is screened behind closed doors,” warning that the government should not take advantage of the latest problem as a pretext to further tighten controls on textbook screening.