A recent report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has found a few positives in Japan’s educational situation. Japan has generally improved its educational conditions relative to other OECD countries, but the costs of education remain extremely high with little financial support for a larger number of students.

The report emphasized that the economic benefits of education are high, especially for women, who get an even greater earnings advantage with education than men do.

Women with a university degree earn a whopping 91 percent more than women who only complete high school. In contrast, male college graduates earn 41 percent more than men with a high school diploma. The likelihood of having full-time work and increasing overall earnings rises with each level of education. Japanese society values education and rewards it with better pay.

Education still contains a democratic element in Japan relative to its neighbors. Much more than other Asian countries, Japanese students perform well regardless of their economic background. The system in Japan is more democratic, with students less vulnerable to dropping out of school and better able to achieve academically regardless of family income.

Unfortunately, Japan has extremely high levels of tuition and relatively low student-support networks in tertiary education. A recent report by the education ministry found 1.55 million students experienced financial difficulties during school life in 2010. Japanese students are capable of working hard and the system rewards their achievements, but high tuition and scant support hold back a large proportion of students.

Japan also spends much less on education as a proportion of GDP and share of total public expenditure than the OECD average. Japan spends 70 percent as much as the average of OECD countries on primary through secondary school education and half as much on tertiary education. Japan’s spending for education remains at a meager 3.3 percent of GDP and 9.4 percent of total public expenditure, both much lower than other OECD countries. Such relatively low percentages reveal the government’s insufficient valuing of education.

The Japanese Constitution states that “Compulsory education shall be free.” The education ministry should more closely heed the spirit of this clause and work toward increasing educational budgets to align Japan with other OECD countries. Students facing money troubles should be assisted and reducing tuition would help realize the ideal of access to education for all.

Education is not just a matter of rights and better incomes, though. The OECD found that around the world people with university degrees report a much higher life satisfaction, generally better health and greater participation in civic life than those with only high school degrees. Education is one of those investments that have multiple human benefits.

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