Japan vows to build 1,000 new schools in Africa


Japan pledged Wednesday to provide aid to finance construction of 1,000 new schools in Africa with a total of 5,500 classrooms over the next five years, setting a key numerical target ahead of planned major international conferences later this year.

The project will benefit some 400,000 children, Foreign Minister Masahiko Komura said in a speech at an international symposium on education in Tokyo.

Japan also plans to provide training for 300,000 math and science teachers across the world, including 100,000 in Africa, Komura said.

Komura set these targets as Japan prepares to host the Tokyo International Conference on African Development at Yokohama in late May as well as the Group of Eight summit at Toyako, Hokkaido in July, where development aid is expected to be one of the main topics.

Japan will also take steps to support local communities around some 10,000 existing schools in Africa to increase participation in school management, Komura said.

In the past five years, Japan has spent more than ¥20 billion to build 1,270 schools in Africa with a total of 7,000 classrooms, benefiting some 510,000 children.

The new targets are the “minimum-level commitment” Japan will guarantee despite domestic political pressure to cut overseas aid amid increasing government debt, Foreign Ministry officials said.

Japan’s net official development assistance in 2007 decreased 30.1 percent from the previous year, with the nation falling from the world’s third to fifth-largest donor — the lowest ranking since 1972.

The latest ranking has sparked serious concerns among Foreign Ministry officials and critics over the impact of the shrinking ODA on Japan’s diplomatic clout.

Komura has expressed determination to stop this trend and increase the ODA budget, and government officials are reportedly considering doubling aid for African countries over five years.

In his speech, Komura emphasized the importance of education for all children as well as adults, saying it will lead to “self-reliance and growth in each country.”