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The nation’s boards of education have finished their selection of textbooks to be used at junior high schools from April 2006 for the next four years. The process gained widespread attention because among the candidate textbooks was a controversial revisionist history textbook published by Fusosha Publishing Inc. that was criticized by China and South Korea for distorting history, and by civic groups for justifying and glossing over Japan’s wartime aggression.

This textbook will be used at 77 schools by 16,300 students, or 0.44 percent of the nation’s junior high-school students. The penetration rate is higher than what the earlier version of the textbook achieved four years ago — 0.04 percent — but much lower than the 10-percent target sought by the Japanese Society for History Textbook Reform, a group of scholars and intellectuals who regard other history textbooks as denigrating Japan’s history. Fusosha’s civil-studies textbooks will be used at 43 junior high schools with some 9,300 students — 0.25 percent of the national total.

Campaigns waged by Japanese and South Korean civic groups against the revisionist textbook may have contributed to its low adoption rate. South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Ban Ki Moon said that the result confirmed that a healthy civil society is firmly established in Japan.

The selection process also highlighted problems in the textbook adoption system. Prefectural and municipal boards of education are authorized to choose textbooks. But it is questionable whether board members took into sufficient consideration the judgments and opinions of teachers.

The adoption of school textbooks is made independently by 583 districts throughout the country. Each district has a council that selects textbooks for public elementary and junior high schools. Each council comprises either a single board of education or several boards of education. In the latter case, the boards jointly make a decision on new textbooks.

Each prefecture has a textbook selection commission composed of teachers, officials from municipal boards of education and academic experts. This body commissions teachers to scrutinize textbooks proposed for each subject. The commission makes reports on the research results and send them to district councils, which then decide which textbooks to adopt. The district councils have their own researchers, some of whom are teachers. The councils make their final decisions on the basis of reports from the prefectural-level commissions and their own researchers.

In the city of Kamakura, Kanagawa Prefecture, two of the five members of the board of education voted for the revisionist history textbook even though it had received the lowest mark on the basis of a maximum of three points from textbook researchers. Clearly the two board members ignored the expert opinions of the researchers. Board of education members should reflect on the reasons why textbook researchers are appointed. They should also be reminded that it is virtually impossible for them, as laymen, to read all the candidate textbooks and render a proper judgment.

In the past, Tokyo’s 23 wards had a system in which each school named the textbooks they wanted to use and the textbooks that received the largest number of votes were adopted. Unfortunately, however, this system — which reflected the experienced voices of teachers in the selection of textbooks — was abolished at the instruction of the metropolitan board of education.

A three-year plan for deregulation and relegating some government work to the private sector, which the government adopted at a Cabinet meeting, says that in view of the importance of securing the autonomy of schools and achieving academic diversity, the possibility of letting each school decide what textbooks to use should be considered.

A lack of transparency is another problem that has emerged in the textbook selection procedure. The Akita Prefectural Board of Education was found to have asked municipal-level boards of education to not publicize their textbook selection processes. Akita Gov. Sukeshiro Terata has rightly criticized the board’s request.

Since board of education members are appointed by governors or mayors with the approval of local assemblies, there is a risk that appointees who reflect the arbitrary views of local government heads could be chosen. If board members blindly follow the views of others, they will undermine the vital role played by textbook researchers.

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