Shionoya embraces teachers union, ‘morals’

New education minister dismisses Nakayama's broadside, invites Nikkyoso to form partnership with the government


Education minister Ryu Shionoya said Tuesday that the Japan Teachers Union (Nikkyoso) should cooperate with the ministry on improving education, dismissing critical remarks by short-lived transport minister Nariaki Nakayama, who resigned Sunday after attacking the union and calling it “a cancer.”

“Those comments totally miss the point,” the new minister of education, culture, sports, science and technology said at a news conference. “It’s very regrettable that a minister had to quit that way.”

Shionoya, 58, said there was no relationship between Nikkyoso and the results of the back-to-back national achievement exams that were held last year and this year for the first time in 43 years.

Nakayama, who is a former education minister, said in an interview Thursday at the transport ministry that students in prefectures where more teachers are Nikkyoso members generally scored lower on the national exam, which examines the aptitude of students in the sixth grade of elementary school and the third year of junior high.

“The children of Nikkyoso members can become teachers even though they don’t have good grades. That’s why Oita Prefecture always scores low,” Nakayama said, taking a swipe at a prefecture that has been embroiled in a corruption scandal involving the unfair hiring and promotion of teachers.

Shionoya rejected Nakayama’s claims and said that was not the case.

The union has been a staunch foe of education ministry policies, but Shionoya said Nikkyoso has been shifting toward forming a partnership with the ministry since 1995.

“I believe that both should cooperate and make efforts to improve our country’s education,” the fifth-term lawmaker said.

The education ministry is Shionoya’s first Cabinet post. He has worked intensively on education issues during his 12 years in the Diet and was vice minister of education in 2004.

In an interview with The Japan Times and other media organizations Thursday, Shionoya said he would like to make efforts to compile materials on “moral education.” The materials, which are currently in the editing process, are to be used starting next April, although his time in office will likely be short if the Lower House is dissolved for a snap election as expected.

Education guidelines state that moral education should be promoted in all aspects of education, and a 2008 revision to the guidelines encourages schools to appoint teachers responsible enough to ensure it is being done effectively.

Shionoya is against the idea of making moral education a formal subject that students are graded on, but said “it is very important to have substantial content in terms of what we teach our children about social morals and order.”

Running from Hamamatsu, Shizuoka Prefecture, which has the largest population of Japanese-Brazilians, Shionoya said the central government is lagging in providing Japanese-language education to children of foreign residents.

Local municipalities are making their own efforts to teach Japanese to foreign children.

Shionoya said the central government should establish a system to teach children Japanese before they reach school age or transfer to Japanese schools.

As for his policies on science, Shionoya said he wants to boost the government’s five-year plan for strengthening research and development on science and technology.

The plan, which lasts through 2010, has an ambitious spending target of ¥25 billion. While admitting the government is struggling to solve serious financial problems, Shionoya said he will do everything he can to secure that funding.

He also said Japan should concentrate on research into environmental technologies.

“It is necessary to develop Japanese environmental technology that can contribute to the world,” he said.