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I n Japan, teaching licenses remain valid permanently, but this system is heading for change. The Central Council for Education has proposed making it mandatory that teaching licenses be renewed every 10 years. The proposed change would affect not only future teachers but also the nation’s 1.1 million current teachers.

The council submitted the proposal to Education Minister Kenji Kosaka in mid-July, and a law incorporating the idea will be submitted to the ordinary Diet session next year. The council’s teacher training committee says the new license system is aimed at enhancing the quality of teachers.

But there are problems. Will education authorities be able to create a mechanism that can fulfill the intended purpose? Another problem is that the new system may place more pressure on teachers as well as dampen their creativity and drive to improve their own abilities.

Under the proposal, teaching licenses would be valid for 10 years. Within two years of expiration, teachers would be required to take a series of retraining lectures at universities, prefectural boards of education and other places for a minimum of 30 hours. Once education authorities have certified that teachers have completed attendance at the lectures, their licenses would be renewed.

The lectures would deal with such topics as course-teaching skills, communication abilities, sense of mission and love toward children. But can a few hours of lecturing on teachers’ sense of mission and love toward children really be that meaningful and helpful?

How can education authorities determine whether teachers who have attended the lectures have attained a sufficient sense of mission and love for students?

Usefulness aside, forcing teachers to attend the lectures would pose a great burden on the many teachers who are already overworked. Education authorities must take into consideration the fact that teachers coping with problem children or problem classes already bear a heavy burden.

As it is, teachers who have worked 10 years already undergo retraining by attending lectures on such topics as use of personal computers and human rights. The proposal by the council may result in a further reduction of hours teachers can devote to classroom preparation and communication with students.

If education authorities want to improve the ability of teachers to adapt to new challenges in education, such as the rise in child truancy and children with learning disabilities or attention-deficit hyperactivity disorders, they should make use of, and enhance, the current 10th-year retraining system. There is no need to introduce a system to renew licenses.

Problem teachers do exist. But giving them guidance at the workplace would be more effective than subjecting them to a series of lectures under the new license system.

Education authorities are wrong to think they can solve problems at school and in the classroom merely by tightening controls on teachers and instilling them with new ideas through lectures. A system should be devised that would flexibly respond to concrete problems at school and help teachers work out ways to cope with them.

The Central Council for Education has discussed mandatory license renewals in the past, but it dropped the idea four years ago on the grounds that retroactively introducing the system to currently employed teachers would be legally untenable with regard to those who joined the education system with the understanding that their licenses would remain permanently valid. The latest proposal has come about as a result of political pressure from the Liberal Democratic Party.

It must be remembered that a system to expel problem teachers has already been institutionalized. Prefectural boards of education are empowered to judge the quality of teachers and expel them if they cannot meet established standards. In 2004, 566 teachers were judged as failing to meet these standards and more than 100 had to quit.

Teachers may view the introduction of the new license system as another attack on their profession. The law for promoting administrative reform that has passed the Diet already calls for a reduction in the number of teachers and a review of their salaries. Requiring that licenses be renewed every 10 years is one more thing that may not only damage the morale of currently employed teachers but also make the teaching profession less attractive to students now majoring in education.

If the new system results in a reduction of the number of young people applying for teaching positions, it will become difficult to secure a sufficient number of good teachers. That would cause the nation’s education system irreparable damage.

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