Local governments should be given greater freedom to run schools in the 21st century, such as discretion in setting up smaller classes, an advisory panel to the education minister said in its final report Monday.

The Central Council for Education, reporting to Education Minister Akito Arima, targets class size, zoning rules, the selection and authority of principals and other issues as areas needing change.

The report effectively indicates the direction the nation’s educational system will take as it enters the 21st century. Some experts have blamed large classes for increasing the alienation between students and teachers, saying large numbers make it more difficult for students to develop personal ties.

In response, the council recommends letting prefectural and municipal governments call the shots on hiring as well as class composition, which by law allows a maximum of 40 students per class for all grades.

Decision-making shifted to local governments would allow them to determine the number of teachers per subject, which would pave the way for better student-teacher ratios and result in more individual attention, the panel said. “Cooperation by schools, homes and local communities is extremely important to create a better educational environment,” said Jiro Nemoto, chairman of the Central Council. “We ask the government to start considering concrete plans.” Other panel recommendations include allowing educators with more than 10 years of experience, or those viewed as fit by local school boards, to serve as principals or vice principals.

Principals should be given more authority in school decision-making processes, particularly in terms of personnel and budgets, the panel said.

To give students a broader choice of schools, the panel suggests that rules regarding school districts be relaxed. Local residents should also be on advisory education councils so that community opinions can be heard. “If the proposals in the report are realized, Japanese education may be able to break through its uniformity, allowing each school to pursue its own educational ideology,” said Miyao Mano, professor emeritus of education at Tsukuba University.

But at the same time, he added, the abilities of local school boards and school administrators will be tested.

Toshichika Maeda, a Tokyo public elementary school principal, praised the council’s proposals as generally impressive, but said he worries that adopting them immediately will cause turmoil among teachers. “These proposals may serve as weapons for school heads to do as they like, but they will likely be countered by teachers’ unions,” he said.

Although valuing the report for its clear viewpoints, Tetsuo Shimomura, a professor of education at Waseda University, criticized the proposals for failing to mention the funding for such reforms. “It lacks practical ideas about where the money will come from, which is really disappointing,” he said.

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