Finance Ministry wants to squeeze more children into classrooms, close elementary schools


The Finance Ministry will ask the education ministry to increase the maximum number of students per class for first-graders at public elementary schools to 40, from the current 35, in a bid to cut the education budget for next year, it has been learned.

The Finance Ministry, which is reviewing fiscal 2015 budget requests submitted in August by various ministries, will present its proposal for public education funding cuts during the next meeting of a panel of experts on fiscal policy, scheduled for Monday.

The ministry estimates that if the maximum number of students per class in the first grade at elementary schools is returned to the pre-2011 level of 40, it would help reduce the number of teachers nationwide by 4,000, saving the government ¥8.6 billion in personnel costs per year, sources said.

But the plan is bound to face fierce opposition from teachers, many of whom maintain that even the current level of staffing is not satisfactory to deal with mounting problems at schools, and who are concerned that adding more pupils to classrooms would worsen the quality of education.

The education ministry cut the size of first-grade classes to 35 students per class in fiscal 2011 to help deal with children who were struggling to adjust to elementary school.

But the Finance Ministry is arguing that the 2011 reform failed to reduce the incidence of bullying in schools for first-graders, compared to the rate for students in other grades.

The ministry cited statistics on bullying that show that during five years before the class size was reduced, the average ratio of first-grade students who experienced bullying was 10.6 percent, but that the ratio has gone up to an average of 11.2 percent in the two years since 2011.

The incidence of school violence and truancy has also gone up, said the ministry sources, who argue the 35-student-per-class policy should be scrapped in light of the nation’s difficult fiscal position.

In addition, the ministry plans to urge the closure of public elementary schools that have a dwindling number of students, the sources said. Schools that cannot maintain 12 classes should close down or merge with other schools, they said.

Such a move could see 3,325 schools closed across the country, or about 16 percent of all public elementary schools. That would mean eliminating 18,034 teaching jobs, the ministry estimates.

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