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Culture and Education

Formal and Informal Education Must Be Differentiated in Discussion!

Tadahiko Abiko
Professor, Faculty of Education and Integrated Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

After World War II, both the people and the government of Japan were devoted to creating a new Japan based on the Constitution and the original Basic Act on Education in order to reconstruct Japan. During this effort, people's attitudes tended to put high social value on education. In the era of Heisei, however, particularly after the educational reform triggered by the Act on National Treasury's Sharing of Compulsory Education Expenses amended by Prime Minister Koizumi, education has been treated simply as a general social issue like politics or the economy without differentiating formal and informal education, resulting in a one-sided evaluation of school education. In fact, there are two kinds of education: formal and informal, but few are aware of the significance of this fact.

Now, we will clarify a common sense aspect of education. Two years ago, I published a book entitled Common and Uncommon Sense in Education: Regarding Formal and Informal Education [Kyoiku no joshiki/hijoshiki: Ko-kyoiku to shi-kyoiku wo megutte] (Gakubunsha) in which I discussed how thoughtless the recent argument on education is. First, it is necessary to clearly recognize that Japan today has, like other developed nations, two kinds of education: formal and informal education. Adults freely provide informal education to their own children or to related children, such as home education, community education, corporate education, and education at cram schools. Informal education includes an aspect that allows timeless education, such as the education provided at Shokasonjuku by Shoin Yoshida. This kind of education is the everyday informal education found in any human societies. In the modern age, however, the public authority of national or local governments captured part of it and began providing intentional, planned, and organized education based on political, economic, and social demands from a national point of view. This is called formal education. While the archetype is public school education, private schools in Japan also generally conform to this type, except for technical and other miscellaneous schools.

However, Prime Minister Koizumi regarded public schools and cram schools as being equivalent or of the same sort, asked parents-whom he regarded as users of education-to choose between them, and bashed public schools and their teachers as if education by cram schools was better. He argued that competition under the market principle was required as so-called neoliberal policy, and politically promoted the view of recognizing education as a service that should heed the voice of the user. In this context, when some students were found having graduated from high schools without completing all the required courses in 2006, it was also revealed and came to issue that some high schools taught courses for university entrance exams in a secret fashion instead of the originally required courses. Following this event, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology interviewed the heads of those schools that caused this problem and members of the Board of Education for investigation. At that time, some Board of Education members and people from those schools counter-argued that they simply did what parents demanded and did not know what was wrong about it. In other words, they definitely meant that they just followed users and were not at fault. Then I asked them "So, if parents asked you to teach their children how to steal, would you do so?" and they did not seem to know what answer to make. This means that formal education cannot be provided under the informal command of users.

In particular, two goals are expected in formal education: (1) children learn the minimum required common knowledge and skills as a citizen; and (2) children are provided with equal opportunities for developing abilities as much as possible regardless of economic or social conditions of their family or guardians. In so doing, formal education may not carry out arbitrary training, as with informal education provided by parents or cram schools. Every school in formal education acts under the restrictions imposed by laws and regulations including, in the case of Japan, the Basic Act of Education, the School Education Act and its Enforcement Regulations, and the Curriculum Guidelines.

A movement is now expanding, however, which calls for educational institutions, i.e., formal education schools, to give an assurance that students will be accepted by an upper school, which is originally the demand of an informal educational nature and advocated by the education industry, including cram schools. What is more, even the Boards of Education tend to instruct high schools to present to parents their targets or previous achievements in university entrance examinations in a similar way as cram schools, and make them behave as if it was the original mission of high schools. Although high schools are required to provide education that guarantees preparation for children's independence and the development of their personality for the purpose of (1) and (2) above, they are currently forced to prioritize preparation for university entrance exams. As a result, we see increases in immature students year by year who are not prepared for independence and who do not have the experience of personality development, despite being prepared for university entrance examinations.

Seeing students in Waseda University recently, I feel that the future society in Japan would be full of sly young people who play a double game for survival while failing to win social confidence due to a lack of awareness of independence, and a lack of self-confidence in their own abilities or personalities. Today, Japan is standing at a significant crossroads for differentiating formal and informal education and rebuilding the ideal relationship between them.

Tadahiko Abiko
Professor, Faculty of Education and Integrated Arts and Sciences, Waseda University

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Professor Abiko graduated from the Faculty of Education, the University of Tokyo. After graduating from the graduate school at the same university, he worked for Osaka University, Aichi University of Education, and Nagoya University. During that period, he has also assumed the positions of Principal, the Nagoya University School of Education Affiliated Upper and Lower Secondary School; and Dean, School of Education and Department of Psychology and Human Developmental Sciences, Nagoya University. He specializes in educational methods and educational assessment, focusing on curriculum studies and theory of curriculum especially for secondary education. He has also been a member of the third to sixth term Central Council for Education; a board member of National Association for the Study of Educational Methods; and executive director of the Japanese Society for Curriculum Studies. Professor Emeritus, Nagoya University. Ph.D. in Education.