Local governments may be empowered to do away with the current uniform elementary and junior high school years and set these periods according to local needs, according to a draft plan for reforming the nation’s compulsory education system.

The plan, worked out by education minister Takeo Kawamura and viewed Saturday by Kyodo News, would provide criteria on the minimum amount of knowledge that students nationwide would have to acquire and calls for teachers to apply for license renewals every 10 years, in place of the current teaching license that is valid until retirement.

Prospective teachers would have to complete a graduate program for teaching similar to law school to be qualified, rather than the current method of licensing those who obtain a certain number of credits at undergraduate schools.

The minister’s plan, however, opposes proposed cuts in subsidies for compulsory education programs.

Compulsory education currently covers the first nine years of school. It comprises six years of elementary school and three years of junior high.

These were set under the Fundamental Law of Education and School Education Law, both of 1947, and have not been touched since.

The draft plan says municipal governments, which run public schools, would be allowed to change, for instance, to five years of elementary school and four years of junior high, or even to combine all nine years at one school.

Kawamura believes a more flexible system is necessary to meet the needs of local communities and the children who live there to address such problems as truancy, bullying and concerns over declining academic standards, ministry sources said.

The minister’s plan, however, could face stiff opposition within the government, which is seeking ways to trim spending, because it is based on the same level of subsidies from national coffers.

About 2.5 trillion yen was budgeted for such subsidies in fiscal 2004 to finance salary and various allowances for teachers at public elementary and junior high schools.

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