Not the way to reform education

A 15-member education resuscitation panel formed at the initiative of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has begun discussions. The direction of the talks can be predicted by the remarks Mr. Abe made in establishing the panel.

He said, “To get back a strong Japan, it is indispensable to resuscitate the education of children, who will carry the future of Japan on their shoulders.” He also said, “The big goal is to ensure opportunities to have (children) acquire the academic ability and normative consciousness of the world’s top level.”

Mr. Abe appears to be more interested in nurturing children who will be useful for achieving national goals than in nurturing children who will develop their own academic interests, have independent and critical thinking and contribute to the healthy development of society through their spontaneous activities.

The possibility cannot be ruled out that the panel will propose stronger intervention in education by the central government and the heads of local governments, thus discouraging efforts at the grass-roots level to rectify serious problems that have long plagued education in Japan, including bullying and the physical abuse of students by teachers in the name of punishment.

The panel is a sequel to one established in 2006 under the first Abe administration. One of its proposals was starting a teachers’ license renewal system.

The system, which increased the burden of teachers and whose effectiveness remains unclear, was introduced in fiscal 2009. The first Abe administration also revised the Basic Act on Education to instill a sense of patriotism in children.

The panel members are mainly conservative and many of them are ideologically close to Mr. Abe. A representative of the Japan Teachers’ Union, which is widely regarded as left-leaning, is not included, but the head of the conservative National Teachers Federation of Japan is. While the panel includes the head of a senior high school, it does not include ordinary teachers from primary, junior high and senior high schools.

The creation of the panel could complicate the government’s education administration. The education ministry has the Central Council for Education, which offers advice in response to the education minister’s requests. The Liberal Democratic Party has the education resuscitation implementation headquarters.

Although education minister Mr. Hakubun Shimomura said that the panel will set down directions and that the CCE and the ruling parties will work out concrete measures, the panel appears to be a fifth wheel.

In the first meeting of the panel, Mr. Abe called on it to first exert its best endeavor to solve the problems of bullying and corporal punishment. The panel is expected to make a proposal related to the issue in its next meeting in February.

One wonders whether the panel can delve into the roots of these grave problems — which can sometimes lead children to commit suicide — in such a short time. The problem cannot be solved just by strengthening intervention by the central and local governments.

Ruling coalition lawmakers are considering enacting a law to prevent bullying. The panel’s proposal may end up just being exploited by these lawmakers.