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Friday, Nov. 3, 2006

Plan OK'd to help students graduate

Staff writer

As the number of students hit by the high school curriculum scandal continues to expand, the ruling bloc approved a plan Thursday to lighten the burden on those who have been told they will have to cram in order to graduate on time.

According to data released by the education ministry Wednesday, 540 of the nation's 5,408 public and private high schools haven't been teaching the required classes, leaving more than 83,000 students unqualified to graduate. The reduced class loads were the fault of the schools, not the students.

Under the plan drafted by the education ministry, students who have missed up to 70 hours of required classes would be held responsible for making up only 50 hours' worth by taking classes after school and during the winter and spring breaks.

The initial plan was to unify the number of skipped hours at 70, but after that was criticized by the Liberal Democratic Party and coalition partner New Komeito as too tough to impose before university entrance exams, the education ministry caved in and agreed to reduce the number of makeup classes.

Meanwhile, students who missed more than 70 hours will have to attend 70 extra classes and make up for the rest through other methods, including written reports.

Students who have graduated will not be affected.

Education minister Bunmei Ibuki said it was difficult to come up with a fair guideline for everyone.

"If we come up with a lenient plan, (people) will say it is (unfair) to the 90 percent who completed the (required amount of) classes," Ibuki told reporters. "But if we are too strict, (they will say) it is cruel."

The ministry plan specifies that "the students are victims and utmost efforts must be made so there is no unfairness between students who completed the required curricula and those who didn't."

Ibuki said the guideline will be distributed later in the day to each prefecture and board of education.

Takeo Kawamura, chairman of the LDP's Research Commission on the Education System, told reporters Thursday morning that it is important to clarify who is responsible for the fiasco.

"The situation that arose when the Great Hanshin Earthquake struck is often cited as an example (of how emergency measures were taken to ease class loads), but that was a natural disaster," Kawamura said. "This time, it was a man-made disaster by the schools and the principals, and light must be shed on who is responsible."

Kawamura also said drastic educational reforms must be taken to prevent a recurrence.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuhisa Shiozaki said the responsibility lies most heavily with the schools and the boards of education that knowingly let this happen.

"What is important is (to hold further discussions on) why many not only didn't follow the rules, but also provided false reports," Shiozaki said.

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The Japan Times

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