The composition of the newly created education “resuscitation” council does not serve as any sure indication of how discussions on education reform, one of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s pet projects, will develop. The advisory panel is headed by Mr. Ryoji Noyori, a laureate of the 2001 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and chief of RIKEN, an independent administrative institution for comprehensive science and technology research.
The 16 other members include not only pure private-sector people but also former high-ranking bureaucrats of the education ministry — a former vice minister and a former head of the private school department.
The prime minister wants the panel to come up with recommendations that depart from the thinking of the ministry. But apart from the question of whether the people will support Mr. Abe’s education philosophy, the question of whether the panel can be independent from the ministry’s influence remains.
The panel is expected to discuss such ideas as renewing teachers’ licenses every 10 years, carrying out a nationwide scholastic ability test, evaluating schools’ teaching programs and administration and introducing a voucher system that enables children to attend schools of their choice. But these ideas could only end up benefiting just a few students with high scholastic ability, lowering the quality of many schools or even shutting them down.
Instead, the government must renew its commitment to ensuring quality education for children irrespective of their parents’ income and help children who have suffered a decline in scholastic performance. There is a report that children from low-income families tend to show a poor scholastic performance. The goal should be to raise the overall academic standards of all school children, rather than giving special treatment to a limited number of excellent students. Before discussing specific measures, the panel should study what is really happening on the education scene and what children and teachers need. Only then, will both the panel and the public have a concrete basis for discussing education reform.
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