Japan spends less on education as a percentage of gross domestic product than all the other member states of the OECD, it was reported in Education at a Glance 2015, a regular survey by the organization that provides data on education systems around the world. Japan’s public spending amounts to just 3.5 percent of GDP, the same as Slovakia, at the bottom of the list.
This consistently and shockingly poor level of spending seems to be ignored by the central government and the education ministry. Japan’s shamefully low spending, far below the OECD average of 4.7 percent of GDP, is an unsustainable and impossible strategy in the long run. Without sufficient support for public education, the current situation amounts to discrimination against the poor, making higher education almost unaffordable to their children.
Countries like Norway spend 6.5 percent of GDP, while Belgium and Iceland both spend 5.9 percent and New Zealand 5.4 percent. The United States and South Korea come in at the OECD average of 4.7 percent. In Japan, only 34.3 percent of higher education costs are supported through public resources, half of the OECD average of 69.7 percent.
At primary and secondary schools, Japanese teachers have the third-biggest class size among OECD members. Japan’s junior high schools, for example, average 32 students per class, 30 percent higher than the OECD average of 24 per class. Even worse, salaries of Japanese teachers with 15 years’ experience have declined by 6 percent from 2008 to 2013, while most other countries increased teachers’ pay during that same period. Teachers in Japan are not given much training either: the teaching practicum for Japanese secondary teachers is only 20 days, compared with 70 to 120 days in half of the other OECD countries.
Early childhood education is handled largely by the private sector, so that families must start paying for education from an early age. Japan has only 30 percent of children in publicly funded institutions for early education, far below the OECD average of 68.4 percent. Japan’s 71.3 percent of pupils having to pay for private early education is strikingly high compared with the rest of the world.
Japan continues to rank rather highly in reading, information and communications technology skills, as well as problem-solving skills, and more adults than ever are receiving tertiary education. However, the gender gap between men and women remains high in Japan, with women overall more than 13 percentage points lower on all skills, the only OECD state with a gender differential greater than 10 percent.
Paying for education in Japan starts early and continues at a high rate for more years than other OECD countries. This disparity makes it clear that the current administration is doing less than ever to support education. If the nation’s leaders are going to secure Japan’s future, and revitalize the economy, they need to spend more on public education. In the long run, there can be no better investment.