The Fundamental Law of Education should be revised to include the concept of patriotism and the importance of educating students about religion, a key government panel said in a report submitted Thursday.

The Central Council for Education, an advisory body to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, handed in its final report on suggested revisions to the law — dubbed the “education constitution” — to education minister Atsuko Toyama.

The panel, which has been discussing the issue since February 2002, proposed that the law be amended to state that children should acquire “love for the nation,” as well as a rounded knowledge of religions.

If enacted, they would be the first changes to the fundamental law since it was enacted in 1947.

“I believe that the report shows the ideals and principles under which we can foster Japanese who are both kind in heart and strong-minded,” Toyama said.

The education ministry will discuss the panel’s suggestions with the ruling coalition, and a bill to revise the education law could be submitted to the Diet during the current session.

However, coalition partner New Komeito has taken a cautious stance toward any revision, and details of the bill may change during negotiations among the three ruling parties, observers said.

Although the current law’s emphasis on peace and the dignity of the individual should be maintained, the panel said, amendments should be made with the goal of nurturing a “tough” breed of Japanese who can break new ground in the 21st century.

The panel proposed that the law clearly stipulate that embracing morals, nurturing creativity and actively participating in the formation of society are concepts children should acquire through their education.

The panel said the role of families, which bear the greatest responsibility in a child’s education, should be defined in the law. Collaboration among schools, families and local communities is indispensable and should also be included, it said.

But while the panel concluded that the current law should be revised so that it is line with the transformations Japanese society has undergone over the decades, critics expressed concern that the proposed amendments would infringe on freedom of thought and pave the way for rightwing politicians to achieve their ideological aims.

Council Chairman Yasuhiko Torii has acknowledged that the amendments themselves would not solve the problems at the nation’s schools, but he stressed that it is necessary to effect the revisions to bring education in line with the 21st century.

He said patriotism is already mentioned in the ministry’s school curriculum guidelines.

“We believed that love for one’s nation should also be written into the law, so that everyone can recognize its importance,” Torii explained during a news conference Tuesday.

In response to strong calls from some panel members to not forget the nationalism that led Japan to war in the past, Thursday’s report says that love for one’s nation must not lead to jingoism or totalitarianism.

However, many critics fear that including patriotism in the law would accelerate a resurgence of nationalism.

In August, a Fukuoka Prefecture-based group of Korean residents and Japanese called on an elementary school in that prefecture to omit items in its report cards which evaluated the extent to which students “loved the nation” and “had awareness as a Japanese.”

Lee Han Eun, vice chairman of the group, said he sees this issue and the proposed amendments to the education law as being part of the same political movement, which are making the country more nationalistic.

“We believe the revisions would change the law for the worse,” Lee said.

Controversy also brewed over whether religious education should be included in the final report. The current law states that education must respect generous attitudes toward religions and the status of religion in society. It also states that public schools must not teach specific religions.

Thursday’s report says that because religion holds significance in the lives of individuals, it is important children learn about this significance from an objective viewpoint.

The panel, however, decided not to include advocating or nurturing religion at public schools in the report, as some members argued that teaching religious sensitivity or faith is something that should be entrusted to the home or individual.

However, a group within the Liberal Democratic Party has said it hopes to get the wording into the bill by the time it is submitted to the Diet, saying that religious sensitivity is a key element for Japanese people.

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