The disparity between private and public school expenses is larger than ever, according to a recent education ministry survey. According to the survey’s reports from parents throughout Japan in fiscal 2012, the price of private middle school was 2.9 times higher than public middle school, an outstanding difference between the two types of schooling that urgently needs change.

Total spending for a child going to private schools from kindergarten through senior high school came to ¥16.77 million on average, significantly more than the ¥5 million for a child going to public schools.

With educational expenses like these, it is no wonder that the birthrate is so low. Most people would have to start saving for their children’s education before they are even married.

The good news was that some fees for public school students were less than in 2010, when the last survey was taken. Reduced tuition measures implemented by the government in 2010 brought the average annual expense to ¥386,000 for public high school students and ¥450,000 for public middle school students.

That amounts to just ¥9,000 less for middle school and ¥7,000 less for high school than in 2010, an amount most students could make in a couple days at a part-time job.

Things were worse for private schools. Various educational expenses for private school rose to a record high total of ¥1,295,000 per student per year. Educational expenses at private school for two children amounted to 60 percent of the median annual household income in Japan — about ¥4.32 million — putting private school entirely out of reach for the nearly 20 percent of Japanese households with income of ¥2 million or less.

Even though private school remains an individual choice, many of those parents paying for private education will say they have no real choice if they are going to ensure that their child learns well enough to get into college. Parents and children both fear not passing college entrance exams. That fear keeps costs high and the education industry, especially cram schools (juku), highly profitable.

The government also needs to investigate to what extent the education industry simply acts as a gatekeeper, collecting fees just to let students through, and to what degree they add significant value to the students’ education. All young people in Japan deserve an equal chance for an education that contributes to their future without undue financial burdens.

Ironically, as education prices have risen, book fees have fallen significantly. Currently books for studying account for ¥9,600 of the expenses for middle school students and ¥7,500 for high school students, each set less than half of the fiscal 1994 costs. Perhaps, then, the best solution is for students to spend more time reading books. Reading widely and deeply has always been a way forward for people without the means to afford an overpriced education, and may continue to be so in the future.

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