Takaki stresses value of foreign languages


Education minister Yoshiaki Takaki is stressing the importance of teaching children foreign languages to promote their interest in other countries.

“Since we are living in a globalized society, I am keenly aware of the necessity of children acquiring the ability to communicate in foreign languages,” Takaki, 64, said in an interview last week with news organizations.

“We have to educate children who in the future can speak at least a language spoken as a common language in many countries or that of neighboring countries,” he said.

Starting next fiscal year, all elementary schools will be required to introduce compulsory English lessons for fifth- and sixth-graders. Takaki said teachers are prepared for the lessons and is confident the transition won’t lead to major problems.

“Since this has already been . . . prepared, (the new curriculum) will be smoothly carried out,” he said.

Takaki meanwhile defended the government’s tuition waiver program for high schools.

“Under any circumstances, it should never happen that junior high or high school students can’t go to school or have to quit school due to their families’ financial situation,” he said. “Making high school (tuition) free is an appropriate policy.”

As for the tuition waiver program being applied to high schools for pro-Pyongyang Korean residents of Japan, a subject of much public debate, Takaki said the ministry will reach a conclusion by the end of the year.

“I would like to decide . . . the procedure based upon the Diet deliberations up to now, public discussions and debate in the (ruling) party,” he said.

The education ministry plans to reduce the number of students per class to 30 to 35 from the current 40 at public elementary and junior high schools over the eight years starting in fiscal 2011.

Takaki said he believes more teachers will be hired to meet the increased number of classes, and thorough training will ensure that the quality of education doesn’t drop.

He also said the government will need to increase spending to promote science and technology. Experts such as retired teachers should be utilized to boost children’s academic performance and encourage them to study such subjects, he added.

A native of Shimonoseki, Yamaguchi Prefecture, the Democratic Party of Japan lawmaker represents the Nagasaki No. 1 district in the Lower House. He started out as a dockyard worker for Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. in Nagasaki before being elected to the Nagasaki Municipal Assembly in 1975. From there he moved on to the Nagasaki Prefectural Assembly.

Takaki made his debut in national politics in 1990, winning a seat in the Lower House. He was a member of the Democratic Socialist Party and Shinshinto before joining the DPJ in 1998, where he later served as vice president and Diet affairs chief.

Takaki is an advocate of cutting government waste and of measures to improve the rapidly graying society.