Newly appointed education chief Atsuko Toyama, continuing the policy of her predecessor, said her ministry will not seek additional revisions to a controversial history textbook even if South Korea officially lodges requests to this end.

Atsuko Toyama

South Korea and China have sharply criticized the textbook, which was compiled by a group of nationalist authors, saying it glosses over Japan’s wartime atrocities.

The book, which was edited by a Tokyo publishing house for use at junior high schools, was approved by the ministry last month after the publisher agreed to revise 137 sections of its draft in line with recommendations by a ministry panel of experts.

“I believe the textbook screening was conducted according to strict standards,” said Toyama, who became minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology. “(The ministry) is not considering further revisions to the textbook that passed the screening.”

South Korea, which last month temporarily recalled its ambassador to Japan in protest, reportedly plans to convey its specific requests concerning the textbook to Japan early this month.

On the oft-discussed decline in Japanese students’ academic abilities, Toyama said she “acknowledges the problem and is worried about it.”

She said the ministry should first clarify the situation by conducting a nationwide survey to collect objective data. “We will deal with the problem flexibly if we find the problem is truly serious,” she said.

Toyama, a former Education Ministry bureaucrat, was very cautious in discussing specific policies. Instead of elaborating on policies and problems, she stressed she will do her best to find measures to resolve “complicated problems” such as the growing number of serious crimes committed by minors.

“I hope more children will acquire the joy of learning and realize how much their lives will be enriched by learning things,” she said.

Toyama, former director general of the Agency of Cultural Affairs, also wants to raise awareness of cultural activities in Japan. She was chief of the National Museum of Western Art before taking the Cabinet post.

“Japan is seen as an economic power, but the emphasis that people put on cultural activities is insufficient,” she said. “We should raise the government budget allocation for promoting cultural activities.”

As for English-language education in Japan, Toyama said she supports the ministry’s policy of giving children the opportunity to start studying English in elementary school.

A good command of English is important in this era of internationalization, said Toyama, who served as ambassador to Turkey from 1996 to 1999.

But she also said it is still a matter of debate how early Japanese kids should start learning another language while still in the process of honing their mother tongue.

Some experts say children should first be able to fluently express themselves in their native tongue before they start studying another language.

Currently, most students start studying English in junior high school. But under the ministry’s new curriculum to be introduced next April, public elementary schools will be able to teach English on a voluntary basis during “comprehensive studies” classes.

During those hours, schools may take up any topic not covered under other subjects.

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