National

Caution grows in ruling coalition about September start to school year

Jiji, Kyodo

As many schools move to reopen after the nation’s state of emergency over the outbreak of the new coronavirus was lifted on Monday, the number of lawmakers in favor of changing the start of the school year within the ruling coalition seems to be dwindling rapidly.

The Liberal Democratic Party’s working team on the issue has compiled a draft proposal asking the government to give up on introducing the system in fall next year, considering that the plan could increase the burden on households with children and create social confusion, sources said Wednesday.

“The more carefully we discuss it, the more we become aware of its social impacts, and more are expressing caution,” Hiroshige Seko, secretary-general of the party in the House of Councillors, told a news conference on Tuesday.

Introduction of the September enrollment system had been proposed by the government to allow students to make up for delays in their tuition caused by prolonged school closures during the virus crisis.

The LDP and its partner in the ruling coalition, Komeito, are scheduled to draw up their recommendations on the matter early next month.

However, the proposed system involves a host of challenges, such as huge costs and adjustments to rules about the enrollment age of first-graders entering elementary schools.

At a meeting of the LDP’s team on the new school year system on Monday, most members were “cautious about or against” the initiative now that a number of schools are working to resume classes, according to LDP lawmaker Hideki Murai, who serves as secretary-general of the team.

Komeito is also negative about the introduction of the new system.

At a news conference Tuesday, Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi stressed that medium- to long-term discussions were necessary on the issue.

“The government needs to take time for sufficient debates from a wider perspective, apart from its response to the loss of students’ opportunities to learn at schools due to the epidemic,” he said.

At a parliamentary meeting last month, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had sounded positive about changing the school year to start in September, saying that he wanted to “consider various options in advance.”

But at a news conference on Monday he backed down, saying, “I want to study the introduction carefully while examining the situation related to reopenings of schools and social impacts of the proposed system.”

Just before the news conference, Abe had been informed that many LDP members were cautious about the new school year system, according to a source close to the prime minister.

The Abe administration, which already faces an array of problems, may see its leadership further falter if momentum for introducing the new system continues to ebb away in the face of opposition from within the ruling coalition, according to political observers.

Government ministries have put together estimates for the costs of starting the school year in September, including one that projects the financial burdens on households with children between elementary school and high school would total ¥2.5 trillion and another suggesting there would be a shortage of 17,000 nursery workers because of an increase in the number of children who would have to wait until September to enter elementary schools.

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