Three education reform bills, including one advocating community service for students in elementary, junior high and high schools, were passed by the Diet on Friday.

The bills to amend the School Education Law, the Local Education Administration Law and the Social Education Law were cleared during an Upper House plenary session. They have already made it through the Lower House.

Now that the amendments have cleared the Diet, Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers are expected to intensify their campaign for revising the Fundamental Law of Education, which they regard as key to reforming the education system.

The law has been in place since the end of World War II. Those favoring its amendment say it fails to emphasize traditional Japanese values in education.

A notable feature of the reform bills is that they expand opportunities for 17-year-old students to enter university by skipping their third year of high school. Until now, only students with excellent marks in physics and mathematics were permitted to skip their final high school year.

From spring, all departments at four-year colleges and universities will be permitted to adopt the early admission policy. But various criticism of the move suggests the practice may not become widespread. Only Chiba University and Meijo University adopted early admissions this academic year.

The bills also include measures to deal with delinquency and problem students, and allow the replacement of teachers perceived as lacking in leadership and authority. The bills also encourage upgrading social education, starting at home.

The community service provisions leave the period and type of service up to the schools but stipulate that students’ performances — in terms of willingness and effort — should be recorded alongside their grades and other reports.

In an attempt to bolster discipline and “protect the right to learn,” the bills empower teachers and school authorities to suspend students who disrupt classes, who attack fellow students or teachers or cause them psychological distress, or who damage school property.

Measures allowing for the dismissal of teachers who show themselves unable to cope with classroom situations will take effect this year and may be applied as early as spring.

With the passage of the three bills, debate on education reform will now shift to revising the fundamental law.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology plans to give guidelines to the Central Education Council, while the LDP is expected to set up an education reform task force before the Upper House election in July.

Both the government and the LDP are expected to jointly push reform measures although disagreement still exists within the party. Coalition partner New Komeito is also advising caution about moving too quickly on the issue.

Education minister Atsuko Toyama is expected to draw up guidelines emphasizing traditional culture as well as policies to revitalize education.

However, at an informal LDP meeting, a rift surfaced between those wishing to hasten reform and those believing reform efforts must coincide with a possible revision of the Constitution.

Education reform was one of the pet policies of former Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori, but how committed his successor, Junichiro Koizumi, is to the issue remains unknown.

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