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Tuesday, July 24, 2001
WHAT'S IN A VOTE?
KOIZUMI'S SILENCE QUERIED
Education expert calls for radical reforms
By ERIKO ARITA
Eight in a series
Staff writer Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has adamantly advocated reforming the nation's infrastructure ever since he took office in April.
But Ikuyo Kaneko, principal of Keio Yochisha Elementary School, does not understand Koizumi's apparent reluctance to air his views on educational reforms.
"It is regrettable that the prime minister has not presented a clear vision on the country's education," Kaneko remarked during a recent interview ahead of Sunday's House of Councilors election.
Kaneko is also a professor at Keio University's Graduate School of Media and Governance and was a member of the National Commission on Educational Reform.
The latter, a private advisory panel, was set up in March 2000 under the administration of Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi. The panel submitted a set of recommendations on education reform to Obuchi's successor, Yoshiro Mori, in December.
Although political parties have recently been at pains to stress the importance of getting the domestic economy on a recovery path, Kaneko believes a recovery of this kind will not amount to much if educational reform is neglected.
He stressed, for example, the running of national universities should be revamped and measures to improve the structure be further discussed.
The education ministry has already announced that it plans to downsize 99 state-run colleges and universities via unification and reorganization. The ministry aims to convert them into independent administrative entities in the near future in order to streamline their management.
But Kaneko, who also served as a professor at Hitotsubashi University between 1984 and 1994, believes this plan is inadequate.
"If the government wants universities to conduct academic research at a level where they can compete internationally, just turning national universities into independent administrative entities will not be enough," he said.
Efforts to increase academic standards within these universities are indispensable, he added.
Regarding elementary and junior high schools, Kaneko observed that the rigidity of the existing hierarchical system has stifled the pursuit of creative and diverse educational goals.
The education ministry sits atop the current education structure, with prefectural and municipal education boards at the next tier and local schools at the bottom.
Kaneko cited the use of school textbooks as one example of the hierarchy's restrictive influence on learning.
In principle, publishers are not bound over the contents of their textbooks.
In reality, however, they tend to refrain from using material that departs significantly from that featured in other texts, fearing their publications may not be authorized by the Textbook Authorization Research Council, which operates under the auspices of the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry.
Kaneko was more enthusiastic on the subject of a new mandatory curriculum that will be introduced next April, noting it will enable schools and teachers to pursue their own teaching methods.
Under the plan, the minimum learning requirement for students of nearly every subject will be cut by about 30 percent.
"It's a chance for schools," Kaneko said.
"The 30 percent cut is the deregulation the education ministry has made over the nation's education system. It means schools will have more flexibility over what and how they will teach students."
Kaneko believes the key issue facing the education system is the fact that public elementary and junior high schools do not have the power to appoint teachers.
Currently, prefectural educational boards assign teachers to the schools in their jurisdiction.
To rectify this situation, Kaneko is calling for introduction of a new type of public school, known as a "community school," an idea floated in December's NCER report.
Kaneko explained that, unlike existing public schools, self-governing community schools would have considerable authority over staff appointments and budget decisions via discussions with their school boards.
The boards would consist of parents and various community representatives.
"I hope this type of school breaks a hole in the existing rigid structure of education," he said.