The House of Representatives on Friday passed three education bills that will give the central government more control over teachers and schools, something experts say will cause the education system to deteriorate.

The bills, backed by the Liberal Democratic Party and junior coalition partner New Komeito, are to make changes to three laws — the School Education Law, the local education administration law and the teacher licensing law.

After they were passed, the bills were sent to the House of Councilors, which is expected to pass them before the Diet closes on June 23.

The bill to revise the School Education Law states that one of the goals of compulsory education is to nurture in children a love of country and homeland — echoing a revision to the Fundamental Law of Education enacted in December.

The bill on the local education administration law is to reinforce the power of the education minister in managing schools. It would give the education minister the authority to order local education boards to take corrective action.

The proposed change to the teachers licensing law will force teachers to renew their licenses every 10 years. Currently, teachers do not renew their licenses.

The bills’ passage through the Lower House is a step forward for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has made education reform one of his top priorities. But some education experts say that greater government control over schools will make the education system more rigid and discourage teachers from trying new ideas in the classroom.

“Education boards would increase their control over teachers (if the bills become law and) . . . eventually teachers will take the safer path in order not to make any mistakes,” said Aki Sakuma, an associate professor of teacher education at Joetsu University of Education in Niigata Prefecture.

That will in turn adversely affect the students, who will be in an environment in which they are not encouraged to take risks, Sakuma said.

The government has said it wants teachers to improve their teaching and classroom management skills, and to be able to remove incompetent teachers, leading to the license renewal program.

The government wants teachers to take a 30-hour training course after which the prefectural education board will decide whether their licenses should be renewed.

Yoichi Akashi, an education professor at Chiba University, said the renewal system is necessary to get teachers to stay-up-to-date on their classroom skills.

“Parents have a critical view of (public school) teachers, comparing them to cram school teachers,” he said. “It’s getting more difficult for (the public school teachers) to live up to their high expectations. The 30-hour training course every 10 years will not be enough to improve their skills but (the teachers) will be stimulated and encouraged to review their work.”

Most of the roughly 100,000 teachers a year who would have to renew their licenses would have few problems.

However, some education experts argue that the license-renewal course would be unnecessary as local education boards already require teachers to take courses designed to address local issues. Joetsu’s Sakuma said a uniform national training course would not be effective to train teachers.

There are also strong concerns that the government would use the license renewal system to remove teachers who do not follow government policy or disobey instructions from the education board — for example, not standing to sing “Kimigayo,” the national anthem. Sakuma said without a mechanism to objectively evaluate teachers capabilities, prefectural education boards’ judgment on teachers may become arbitrary.

One teacher at a public elementary school in Tokyo, who asked not to be named, said she was afraid she might lose her job if the licensing renewal system is implemented. The Tokyo Metropolitan board of education reprimanded her because she refused to stand and face the Hinomaru and sing “Kimigayo” during a school ceremony.

“I used to think that public servants wouldn’t be fired unless something extraordinary happened,” the veteran teacher said. “Now I feel things may not be so easy. When I’m judged (by a local education board) for a license renewal, I could lose my job if they decide that in my attitude toward the Hinomaru and “Kimigayo,” I have not followed their directives.”

She said that if the renewal system is implemented, most teachers will obey their education boards to protect their jobs.

Sakuma, the Joetsu University professor, said fewer people will become teachers if they think the job is not secure.

She predicted a bleak future for schools if the bills are passed.

“Changes will not be seen tomorrow or the day after tomorrow,” Sakuma said. “But the (free) atmosphere (in schools) will be gone in 10 years or 20 years.”

Main changes to education laws

The School Education Law

* Instilling patriotism among students will be one of the objectives of elementary school and junior high school education.

* Elementary and junior high schools can create managerial positions such as vice principal in addition to the current posts of principal and assistant principal to improve school management.

The local education administration law

* The education ministry can instruct local boards of education to take measures to support students if the boards fail to follow education-related laws or otherwise neglect their duties.

* Each board of education must have least one parent of a student as a member.

The teacher license law

* Teachers at public and private schools must have their licenses renewed every 10 years by taking a 30-hour training course.

* Those who are judged incompetent by a prefectural board of education must take an additional training course for up to one year. Those who are still judged incompetent after the course can be deprived of their license.

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