The education ministry on Feb. 20 revised an ordinance to exclude so-called Korean high schools or pro-North Korea high schools from the government’s tuition-waiver program. This change will cause various problems.
First of all, the revision violates the principle of an education program designed to ensure that all high school students in Japan receive an education regardless of the financial condition of their families. Excluding children attending Korean high schools also violates the principle of equality under the law as stipulated by Article 14 of the Constitution.
The government will have difficulty justifying the decision as not discriminatory to students of Korean high schools because the tuition-waiver program covers so-called international schools and schools with close ties to China and South Korea as well.
The decision could also fan prejudice and intolerance in Japanese society toward people who have different views, especially with regard to historical issues.
Education minister Mr. Hakubun Shimomura said on Dec. 28 that the government would not be able to get the public to support a tuition-waiver program that includes pro-North Korea schools, because they have close ties with the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), which acts as North Korea’s de facto diplomatic mission in Tokyo, and because there has been no progress toward resolving the issue of Japanese nationals abducted by North Korean agents in the 1970s and ’80s.
The Democratic Party of Japan government introduced the tuition-free program from fiscal 2010. There are 12 Korean high schools in Japan with about 1,800 students, including both South Korean and Japanese nationals, but two of the schools are virtually closed. Most national and private universities regard graduates of these high schools as having the same qualification as graduates of Japanese high schools and allow them to take their entrance exams.
The DPJ government chose not to act on the tuition waiver for Korean high schools while it was in power. The education ministry’s move last week reflects Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s tough stance against North Korea’s rocket launches and nuclear-weapons tests as well as the abduction issue.
Even if pro-North Korea high schools were covered by the tuition-waiver program, the schools themselves would not be financially supported by the Japanese government. The beneficiaries are individual children who have to pay tuition. The ministry’s decision targets them.
Children attending Korean high schools have had nothing to do with North Korea’s nuclear weapons program or the abduction of Japanese nationals. Excluding them will not help to resolve these problems. The right of foreign residents of Japan to study their own languages and history of their countries at schools they have established also should be upheld. That said, it would be helpful if Korean schools made greater efforts to make themselves transparent through class visits and other activities.
The government should heed the words of Mr. Shigeru Yokota, the father of Ms. Megumi Yokota, who was abducted in 1978 by a North Korean agent. Tokyo Shimbun quoted him as saying: “It is unreasonable to discriminate against second- and third-generation Koreans living legally in Japan. I would like Korean schools to sufficiently teach the abduction issue. But I think it is unreasonable to make the children take responsibility (for the abductions).”
The government should also consider what the international community will say about the decision. Criticism of Japan will likely be strong.