Steps toward politicized education

The Abe administration plans to submit bills to this Diet session to change the shape and function of local boards of education. There are three main aims: (1) to increase local government heads’ control over boards of education, (2) to greatly limit the autonomy of boards of education, and (3) to make it easier for the education ministry to intervene in decisions made by boards of education. The proposal seems very likely to destroy the neutrality of an education board and education itself.

At present, boards of education, in principle, consist of five members appointed by local government heads with the consent of local assemblies. Board members then select from among themselves their board heads as well as the heads of the boards’ secretariats. Board of education heads cannot serve as secretariat heads at the same time. Secretariat heads serve under the boards’ authority, but local government heads may exercise influence over the appointment of secretariat heads by expressing candidate preferences in advance.

Under the government proposal, local government heads, with the consent of local assemblies, will directly appoint board of education heads, whose function will be to integrate the current duties of board heads and those of secretariat heads. Thus the new system clearly puts board heads under the control of local government heads. Compared with the current system, the new system will have board heads wield more influence, because they will directly control secretariats’ affairs.

The government also proposes that board members be selected from among people well-versed in education-related issues and in education administration so that they can monitor the actions of board heads. But board members are part-time officials and don’t have subordinates who can serve as their assistants. Therefore it will be difficult for them to effectively carry out this responsibility.

Although the government proposal retains boards of education as the executive organ of education in prefectures and municipalities, indications are the boards’ power will be nominal.

Also serving to strengthen local government heads’ control over education boards will be local government heads’ authority to convene “comprehensive education policy conferences” comprising local government heads, education board heads and education experts. Local government heads may use the conference to have residents’ opinions reflected, but this mechanism also could become a means by which local government heads impose their views on educational matters. It’s possible local government heads will impose their opinions regarding the selection of textbooks and teachers’ appointments.

The government also plans to revise the local education administration law to make it easy for the education ministry to challenge education boards’ policies that do not follow, for example, decisions that their respective municipality zones have reached on the selection of textbooks.

In a nutshell, the proposed system gives local government heads and the education ministry a green light to arbitrarily intervene in education to the point of regimenting it. The opposition parties should strongly oppose the current plan and force the Abe administration to rethink its proposal.