Japan’s spending on education as a proportion of gross domestic product (GDP) is the lowest among 31 member countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a comprehensive survey released in September by the OECD found.

Among the 31 of the OECD’s 34 members with comparable data, the OECD found Japan spent less on public education proportionally than other developed and developing countries in the organization, coming in ahead of only the Czech Republic, the Slovak Republic and the Russian Federation.

Japan’s 3.3 percent of GDP spent on education was a startling contrast to Norway’s 7.3 percent, the highest in the group, followed by Iceland’s 7.2 percent, and Denmark’s 6.5 percent. The overall average of OECD countries through 2008 was 6.1 percent of GDP, almost double Japan’s expenditures.

What is more, Japan has barely made any increases in government spending on education in the last decade, unlike almost every other OECD country. Between 2000 and 2009, teacher’s salaries declined in four countries, Australia, France, Switzerland and Japan. The survey clearly reveals that Japan’s educational system is not receiving the funding it needs.

Japan, however, did come in third in private spending on education, following Chile and South Korea.

In Japan, 33.6 percent of all money spent on education was private spending. More than in most other developed countries, education in Japan has become an expense borne by individuals at mainly private institutions.

The traditional Asian values of collective well-being and social harmony do not seem much in evidence here. When it comes to education in Japan, you are on your own.

More support for public education from the government is desperately needed, even as the country crawls out of its recession and suffers with the vast expenses of reconstructing areas devastated by the Tohoku disasters.

In purely economic terms, the report re-emphasized that education is one of the best investments any country can make. Better-educated people earn higher incomes, pay more in taxes and need less in unemployment benefits or welfare assistance. Adding in the other social and psychological benefits of education, increasing funding for education makes even better sense.

Japan remains a relatively well-educated country. However, increasing expenditures on public education, curtailing excessive spending on private education and improving the educational climate at all levels are the only ways Japan will continue to maintain its economic and social strength into the next generation.

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