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Consumer education is getting underway at high schools across Japan ahead of the lowering of the age of legal adulthood by two years to 18 on April 1, 2022.

The legal amendment will enable even high school students to sign contracts to purchase expensive goods and services without parental consent. With 18- and 19-year-olds set to lose the right of minors to rescind contracts they conclude without parental consent, however, concerns are increasing about a growing risk of consumer-related problems.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, therefore, is calling on education boards across the country to promote educational programs at high schools to help new adults avoid consumer problems.

“Let’s suppose a situation in which you buy a health food product online once but later receive another delivery, so you quickly get in touch with the supplier and find you have overlooked that the contract involves a regular purchase order,” Mikio Miyazaki, a teacher of civics education, said during a class for first-year students at Tokyo Metropolitan Kokusai High School in Meguro Ward in October last year. “Do you think you can rescind the contract?”

Students had a variety of answers, such as “It’s your own fault because you checked ‘agreed'” or “The supplier is at fault because the contract is written in an unclear way. An online contract can be canceled any time.”

Noting that contracts cannot be rescinded in many cases, Miyazaki, 43, read a clause of the Civil Code that states that “the exercise of rights and fulfillment of obligations must be done in good faith.”

“Basically, you should honor your promise in principle, but there are things such as fake invoices,” he added.

A teacher of home economics attending the class explained a cooling-off system, which enables consumers to cancel purchase orders under set circumstances, such as door-to-door sales, and ethical consumption.

“We’ll have to earn money and support our lives as consumers in the future,” a student said after the class. “It’s good to have that experience from as early as 18 years old.”

The unusual joint class by teachers of civics education and home economics was held as the new high school curriculum guidelines, due to take effect in April 2022, include the promotion of consumer education before the lowering of the age of legal adulthood.

“While the focus (of consumer education) has so far been on the protection of consumers, we will need to help students firmly grasp what a contract means,” Miyazaki said.

Despite the push by the education ministry, however, there are gaps in promoting consumer education between education boards. More than half of education boards that responded to a ministry survey in June 2019 said they could not undertake such education, as they were busy with other priority issues. Nearly 30% of them said they did not know how to carry out consumer education.

The ministry, therefore, held an online symposium in February this year to introduce innovative consumer education programs conducted in the prefectures of Aomori, Saitama and Okinawa. Participants shared a senses of crisis, with teachers lacking enough awareness of consumer education or yet to recognize the urgent need for it despite the lowering of the age of legal adulthood in little more than a year.

“We will continue the promotion of consumer education by reinforcing tie-ups with government offices for consumer affairs and upgrading education for teachers in the remaining year,” a ministry official said.

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