Education reform over-reaches

An education resuscitation panel of the Abe administration has come up with a proposal to simplify the board of education system. But its proposal will weaken the power of boards of education and increase the influence of local government heads, such as mayors.

It’s possible that the ideology of local government leaders will be directly reflected in the content of education at the local level, thus destroying neutrality of education. There is also the danger that each time a local government head changes after an election, education will undergo changes.

The current board of education system is not free of problems. But the Central Education Council, which will work out details of reform on the basis of the panel’s proposal, should not jump on the panel’s idea. Instead it should consider ways to make current boards of education more active and efficient.

Currently a local government head appoints five members of a board of education with the consent of a local assembly. The board members choose from among themselves the education administration chief, who heads the board’s secretariat. But the local government head in advance indicates which board member he or she wants to become education administration chief, a full-time position. Other board members are part-time officials.

Even under this system, boards of education have prevented local government heads from intervening in the management of schools and the content of education provided to children.

Under the panel’s proposal, the board of education would be deprived of administrative power and the power would be transferred to the education administration chief. A local government head would be empowered to directly appoint or dismiss the education administration chief with the consent of a local assembly.

The board of education would be downgraded to a deliberative body that decides on the general direction of education and checks the work of education administration chief. Under the proposed system, a local government head could politically intervene in the content of education through such means as influencing the selection of textbooks to be used at schools.

History is instructive. The board of education system was introduced in 1948 to prevent education from becoming a servant of nationalism and militarism as happened before and during World War II. Until 1956, board members were chosen through public elections.

The panel’s proposal is tantamount to destroying what little independence education has in relation to politics.

Generally boards of education have been often criticized for just rubber-stamping plans and decisions made by their secretariats and being slow to cope with bullying problems. However, there are boards of education that have been active in improving local education and their example should be emulated.

The central government should consider what kind of arrangement should be made to help members of the board of education more actively involve themselves in education-related matters on their own initiative rather than weaken the current board of education system.

  • One could interpret this a number of ways depending on Abe’s motives. One might celebrate the devolution of power to lower govt, away from centralised power. Or one might question what is so particular about education that it requires local govt participation. Could it be that the desire of the policy is to achieve ‘conservative power’ in the greater ‘rural’ constituencies of Japan; and at the same time not have the policy outcomes directly attributed to oneself. It leaves one suspicious.

    • Mark Garrett

      I think we can safely assume that regardless of the motives and irrespective of where the decision-making and power end up, the result will remain the same for the foreseeable future; the public education system will continue to mire in its current state of archaic rut.

  • kyushuphil

    Good thing nobody signed this editorial.

    Who could live with the personal infamy of writing such passive voice syntax as “boards of education have been often criticized for just rubber-stamping plans and decisions”? Please. Let’s skip passive voice. Let’s look at education in Japan in plain English. It doesn’t just stink, it does much worse. It kills souls. It guarantees “rubbing stamping” everything everywhere. Everyone learns one main lesson: never ask questions. After that, relying on passive voice comes easy.