Legislation to revise the Fundamental Law of Education, which the ruling bloc has just pushed through the Diet, will drastically change the direction of the nation’s postwar education system. It will lead to more direct control of education by the central government, which could result in stifling creative efforts by teachers to improve education, molding children according to the ideological design of the state, and possibly intensifying competition among schools and children to severe levels with incorporation of the “competition principle” into education.
The original Fundamental Law of Education was promulgated in 1947, incorporating constitutional principles such as sovereignty’s resting with the people, the right to receive an education, freedom of thought and conscience, and academic research. Dubbed the “constitution of education,” it is based on the postwar determination of the Japanese state not to repeat the mistake of creating the ultranationalist, state-centered education system of World War II and before.
But the revision appears to be aimed in a direction that deviates from the path of the original basic law on education. Among education goals, the revision calls for cultivating “an attitude that autonomously takes part in building society and contributing to its development on the basis of a public-oriented mind” as well as “an attitude that respects tradition and culture and love of the national homeland that has fostered them.”
The revision gives the state leeway to instill these attitudes in children when these attitudes should be spontaneous. The state could impose on teachers and children what it believes is a correct attitude toward the nation, infringing on the freedom of thought guaranteed by the Constitution.
Both former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the Diet that education authorities will not assess children’s “love of nation” by intruding into their inner self. Yet Mr. Abe said they will assess children’s attitude with regard to tradition and culture. Might this constitute intrusion into children’s inner self? Another danger is that education authorities will decide what constitutes tradition and culture and impose this idea on teachers and children.
Article 10 of the original Fundamental Law of Education said education should not be subjected to improper control and should be carried out with direct responsibility to the people. This primarily represented the state’s resolve not to repeat the prewar and wartime education policies whose main purpose was to nurture children toward the realization of national goals.
In order to prevent such state control of education, the article said the purpose of education-related administration should be to establish and to improve the conditions necessary for fulfilling the aim of education.
But the revision bill dropped the phrase that education should be carried out with direct responsibility to the people and, instead, inserted the phrase that education should be carried out in accordance with “this and other laws.” This will pave the way for the state strengthening control of and intervening in education. Under this provision, the government would be able to impose its will on education by incorporating into law the content that it says should be taught as well as new measures including the introduction of a teachers’ license-renewal system and competitive elements to education.
Japan faces problems such as declining scholastic ability, children’s violence and bullying, suicides due to bullying, juvenile crime, self-centered behavior and declining self-motivation. It is difficult to say the original basic law on education is responsible for these problems. Rather, these problems could have been prevented by faithfully trying to put into practice the spirit of the law, which embraced respect for individuality and the full development of personality; the rearing of people who love truth, peace and justice; respect for labor; the cultivation of a deep sense of responsibility; and the creation of a culture that stresses both universal values and individuality.
During Diet deliberations, the government could not offer convincing explanations on how the revision would better serve to overcome these problems.
Regrettably, there have not been broad-based public debates on the revision. The public is not familiar with details of the legislation. It has also been found that the government manipulated several town meetings on education reform, thus lowering the trustworthiness of the education ministry.
Changing the Fundamental Law of Education without public consensus would damage education. There is a strong possibility that under the revision, education will become a means of producing children who lack autonomous judgment and a critical mind, just following the will of the state.
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