The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun

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Autumn Issue (Nov.)

Trend Eye

Looking ahead of reforms for the educational system

This section is a serialized section from Shunsuke Yamagishi, who is active as an education journalist, about education problems.

Educational costs weigh heavily on household budgets

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), of which Japan is a member, conducted a survey of the average amount of public funds used for educational costs paid to educational facilities such as schools and universities. According to the survey, which was performed in 28 countries for which comparison was possible, the average amount of public funds used for educational costs is 4.9% of GDP (gross domestic product). However, in the case of Japan, the amount of public funds used is 3.3%. Various newspapers ran articles containing contents such as "Japan is second lowest" and "Korea is at the bottom."

It is a widely known fact in educational circles that Japan normally only spends half or less than half of the money that Western nations devote to education, although spending differs according to each individual nation. In particular, Japan's spending for higher levels of education is unacceptable. Repeated petitions for reform have been made to the government, but nothing has changed. The MOF (Ministry of Finance) is becoming a target of animosity among education officials.

The results of the OECD survey are the same results which have been heard a million times. I'm not sure whether or not such results qualify as news, but Japanese newspapers conducted extensive coverage. Several days later, a certain newspaper also ran an article in the education section that reported that a great burden is placed on household budgets in Japan, particularly in the area of higher education.

Of course, money is required to operate universities when the government is stingy with public expenditures for education costs. The government will not supply that money. It is a fantasy to think that the business community will cover such costs. All that remains is for households to bear the costs. Educational costs in Japan compose 21.8% of household budgets, a figure that is second only to Korea.

However, this situation arose when the LDP (Liberal Democratic Party) was in power and the MOF overpowered the MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) to prevent increases in public expenditures for educational costs. The citizens of Japan must have run out of patience, for the LDP fell from power and the DPJ (Democratic Party of Japan) captured 308 seats in parliament.

Concern regarding the quality of education

It seems that the situation will dramatically change now that the DPJ has come to power. The "Child-Raising and Education" section of the DPJ's manifest contains the following statements: "An annual 'Child Stipend' of 312,000 yen will be issued to each child until graduation from junior high school." "High school will essentially be made free of charge, and major increases will be made in scholarship money for university." It has been calculated that 5.3 trillion yen will be needed to enact such policies.

However, according to newspaper reports, the MHLW (Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare) has started system design for the "Child Stipend." As for system reforms related to the MEXT, when excluding policies such as "major increases in scholarship money for university," "free high school," "increased instructors for giving more attention to individual children," and "deployment of schools counselors at all primary schools and junior high schools for the purpose of lifestyle and educational/career path counseling," it seems that there are no policies that will require such a large amount of financial resources. Policies are based on the educational reform which was described in the DPJ's manifest, including "a fundamental revision of the Instructor Licensing System," "School Administrative Boards at public primary schools and junior high schools," and "fundamental revision of the Educational Committee System and establishment of an Educational Auditory Committee."

However, these policies are insufficient. The Nikkei newspaper ran an editorial entitled "Questioning Political Policy" that was published in the midst of elections for the lower house. The editorial pointed out that "debate regarding the contents of education has been left behind." In regards to the DPJ, the editorial stated the following: "The desire to reform is shown by policies such as extending the Instructor Development Program to a 6 year system and establishing School Administrative Boards and an Educational Auditory Committee. However, for each of the policies, it is unclear what kind of results will be obtained." The editorial also made the following point: "Japanese education has maintained uniform and steady academic ability through policies such as a country-wide unified curriculum. However, these same policies have also robbed educational facilities of initiative and creativity, and have brought about a standardization of classes and an extreme consciousness towards horizontal uniformity. The Educational Committee has not functioned sufficiently, and there are rampant trends of top-down administration and maintain peace at any price. When considering the future of education, it is necessary to employ a perspective of relaxing such excessive control and restoring the appeal of schools."

Digressing from the topic at hand, when I read this editorial, I was brought to tears by the deep quality of the editorial office at The Nikkei newspaper. The editorial contained many opinions which I myself wished to express. There are newspaper companies which advertise themselves as specializing in education, but I doubt that any of them have debated the educational reform policies of the DPJ to the extent of The Nikkei.

If the DPJ is serious about educational policy, then they must implement policies which are clear when viewed from the outside. This will allow citizens to become familiar with their policies. I will be paying close attention to the actions of the DPJ.

A reform without journalists

Even I do not understand the subject which I will now write about. If I did understand, then I suppose that the DPJ would come to ask for my advice. I am not at all reluctant to discuss the subject. However, since I do not understand, there would be no real point in my discussion.

So, what is it that I do not understand? To raise one example, I do not understand who will advance the discussion of reform. I cannot imagine. Speaking from the system, I suppose that it will be the Minister of the MEXT. However, the Minister of the MEXT was not employed for that reason. It is not so simple as to think that the minister will continue to process expected matters and then be capable of conducting reform for the educational system in his free time. It would be good to attempt this on a trial basis. It may prove to be a debacle for the DPJ.

Well then, who will be employed for this task? There was no one within the DPJ to raise these issues when the manifest was made, so it cannot be expected that such an individual will suddenly emerge at this point in time. Perhaps the matter should be assigned to external experts? There is the question of whether or not such external experts really possess any influence. Will a suitable individual be found on the inside?

One problem is a lack of knowledge regarding actual onsite conditions. Even individuals with outstanding academic knowledge and ways of thinking do not know what goes on in the classroom. When I refer to onsite conditions, I do not mean one or two places. I have not heard of any individuals who has made numerous onsite visits and who has refined his own academic knowledge and thought while listening to the opinions of various people working onsite. Intelligent individuals would not take such a circuitous approach. That is why they are considered intelligent.

In reality, taking such an approach would seem to be the manner of business for newspaper reporters and journalists. However, recently many such reporters and journalists have come from famous universities such as the University of Tokyo, Keio University, and Waseda University, and I suppose that they consider themselves to be scholars and critics. They make onsite visits only when something has occurred.

Without the support of many people, it will be difficult to even begin the DPJ's reforms of the educational system. In particular, nothing will happen without the cooperation of journalists. However, there are no journalists who are giving such support. There is nothing to do but look up to the heavens and give a sigh of grief. It seems that the future is not bright, but dark.

Shunsuke Yamagishi

Graduated in 1958 from the Niigata University Faculty of Humanities Department of Law. Served as a reporter at the Niigata Nippo and the Asahi Shimbun before becoming a Professor at Tama University (teacher-training course). After reaching the mandatory retirement age, served as a Visiting Professor until last year. In 1968, selected as an Honor Student for the First Term of the Oya Soichi Tokyo Mass Communication School. In 1970, received the Kikuchi Award for the series of newspaper articles entitled "The Japanese Sea of Tomorrow". Active as an education journalist. Has authored many works, including "At the Scene of University Reform" (Tamagawa University Publishing Department).