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Saturday, Dec. 9, 2000
Better education system hinges on revision of law: Machimura
By YOKO HANI
The 53-year-old Fundamental Law of Education needs to be revised if Japan is to lay the foundations of a better education system in the 21st century, according to newly appointed Education Minister Nobutaka Machimura.
Revising the law is one of the key issues on the agenda of the prime minister's panel on educational reform, an advisory body that will submit its final report later this month.
"Of course, I don't think revising the law will solve serious problems in the educational field overnight," said Machimura, who is regarded as being well-versed in education issues. He was education minister in the Cabinet of Ryutaro Hashimoto in 1997, and also served as the late Keizo Obuchi's adviser on educational issues.
"Still, I believe that improving the law is necessary to present (the country) with a goal for education in the 21st century and to provide a foundation on which educational policies will be implemented," he said.
The law, established in 1947, states that the basic purpose of education is to make Japan a peaceful nation. It also contains clauses specifying equal opportunities for education and compulsory education.
Machimura pointed out that the law, for example, does not sufficiently touch upon the role that Japan's culture and traditions should play in educating the nation's youth.
Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori has expressed his intention to press ahead with reforms in various sectors, including the nation's economic structure. Changes to the nation's education system, another key priority, are to be based on his panel's final report.
The new education minister said education reforms would focus on such issues as reducing the number of students in each class, increasing students' opportunities to participate in social activities and providing them with ways to deal with bullying at school.
Machimura added that his ministry will submit a package of bills to pave the way for such changes to the next ordinary Diet session, which is to begin next month.
To help solve a number of educational problems, the minister added, people should start by examining the way they are raising their children.
"Many young parents seem to be struggling to find the way to raise their children properly. Of course, (the ministry) cannot offer direct instructions," but it may help them by providing some guidelines for child-rearing, he said.
Furthermore, schools should attach more importance to giving students opportunities to learn by actually experiencing something for themselves, such as through social activities or by spending time witnessing the natural environment, he said.
As for English-language education in Japan, Machimura said that giving children the opportunity to start learning English in elementary school will help Japanese to speak the language better.
Under the Education Ministry's new curriculum to be introduced in April 2002, elementary schools will be able to teach English on a voluntary basis during "comprehensive studies" classes. During those hours, schools may take up any topic not covered under other subjects.
In the government regrouping to take effect Jan. 6, the Education Ministry will become the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry after merging with the Science and Technology Agency.