In response to a scandal in which publishers defied a ban and showed textbooks still undergoing government screening to teachers, the education ministry is planning to set up official opportunities to allow teachers to see the books while their boards of education decide whether to use them, ministry officials said Tuesday.
The officials said the ministry is considering holding presentation meetings in which publishers would be allowed to disclose the content of textbooks during the “adoption period,” in which local boards of education select and adopt textbooks for use in the schools under their jurisdiction.
The adoption period follows the textbook “screening period,” during which the ministry bans publishers from disclosing the content. Even during the adoption period, which comes after the textbooks are authorized for use at schools, publishers are currently banned from holding presentation events on their textbook content.
In December, major publishing house Sanseido Co. apologized for having revealed content from a textbook being screened by the ministry to elementary school principals from across the country. The firm paid each participant ¥50,000 in “editing fees.”
Of the 53 participants, 21 were involved in selecting textbooks for local schools.
The scandal prompted the education ministry last month to launch a probe into publishers’ behavior. The ministry plans to compile the findings by Jan. 20.
According to the ministry, some publishers have long sought the ministry’s permission to hold meetings to exhibit their textbooks in ways that would not affect the selection process.
The ministry now thinks its edict against holding any explanatory meetings by publishers during the screening period only drove them to covert activities.
The ministry is considering revising its guidelines based on opinions shared by firms and organizations representing the industry.
In its proposal, the ministry said the revised regulations would enable publishers to hold meetings on their editing policies and other issues, and receive opinions from teachers between April and July, after the government screening period has ended.
The meetings would also be open to teachers who are not involved in textbook selection.
The ministry said, however, that the ban on textbook disclosure during the screening period would remain in force.
On Monday, another publisher admitted to a similar practice in the screening period for its junior high mathematics textbook.
Sources at Tokyo-based Suken Shuppan said the company revealed the content of the textbook to several junior high school teachers and presented at least one of them with book vouchers worth several thousand yen despite knowing that doing so would be “inappropriate.”
According to Suken Shuppan sources and other people involved in the incident, the company invited several teachers to a meeting and revealed the content of the textbook undergoing government screening in the 2014 school year to “seek their opinions.”
The textbook was adopted for use at some junior high schools in the 2016 school year.
“We are reflecting deeply on this practice, which resulted in a loss of trust, and we are now considering introducing a system that would help us prevent a reoccurrence of such incidents,” a company official said.
Suken Shuppan’s textbooks for junior high schools were screened by the ministry for the first time in the 2010 school year.
Company officials said that in the 2009 school year it showed a draft version of the textbook to a number of teachers before it underwent screening. The publisher also presented these teachers with book vouchers.
They denied doing the same in the 2010 school year, however.
They also said they have sent summer and year-end gifts to teachers to express thanks for opinions given about publishing plans and education in their respective localities. But such gifts were offered within the bounds of “social convention,” the officials asserted.
Suken Shuppan holds a 5.5 percent market share for junior high mathematics textbooks used in the 2016 school year. The company also publishes market-leading math textbooks for high schools, with shares ranging between 50 and 60 percent.
At a news conference Monday, education minister Hiroshi Hase called the publisher’s practices “highly regrettable.”
“I understand that (publishers need to) make marketing efforts, but cunning tactics are unacceptable,” he said.
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