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Friday, Nov. 17, 2006

Abe education bill clears Lower House

Opposition boycotts floor vote


Staff writer

The House of Representatives passed the controversial bill to revise the 1947 education law Thursday amid an opposition camp boycott.

The passage brings Prime Minister Shinzo Abe one step closer to achieving his goal of getting schools to instill a sense of newly defined patriotism in their students.

The Democratic Party of Japan, Japanese Communist Party, Social Democratic Party of Japan and People's New Party had demanded more time for deliberations on the bill by a Lower House committee, and thus began their boycott Wednesday when the panel voted on the bill.

The bill to revise the Fundamental Law of Education calls for "cultivating an attitude that respects tradition and culture, loves the nation and homeland that have fostered them, while respecting other countries and contributing to international peace and development."

The hawkish Abe has placed revising the education law high on his agenda. However, critics say the bill represents a shift away from valuing individuality to social conformity.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and coalition partner New Komeito have a large majority in the house. The bill is expected to be handed to the House of Councilors on Friday, where the ruling bloc also holds a majority. The coalition aims to have the bill passed by the Dec. 15 end of the extraordinary Diet session.

The 1947 Fundamental Law of Education, written during the Allied Occupation, has not been amended since it was enacted. Critics have said the law does not reflect Japanese thinking and has weakened traditional values.

Shuji Ikuta, a professor of human rights education at Nara University of Education, said the movement to change the law reflects a new wave of conservatism in society.

People who seek to revise the law want to preserve traditional values of family and nation, Ikuta said, adding it also reflects worries about multiculturalism.

The bill must also be seen within a larger social framework, he said.

"Discussion (about revising the law) is entwined with the debate over the revision of the Constitution," Ikuta said. "There needs to be dialogue on what kind of country we are trying to build and what education should be like."

The opposition parties argue that the bill promotes a narrow view of nationalism and will force patriotism on students.

They also point to the problem of schools not teaching compulsory courses and the state planting people in town meetings to speak in support of the education bill, saying this is even greater reason to spend more time debating the bill.

The education bill "is not an ordinary law, it is a law that will establish the fundamental rules for other laws," said Mitsuru Uchida, professor emeritus of political science at Waseda University. "It was not ideal for the (ruling bloc) to vote on the bill alone, without the participation of the opposition parties."

Uchida said he was concerned the bill is being rushed even though the situation has changed, and serious problems in the education system have recently surfaced.

"Public opinion has not been absorbed into the (Diet) discussion and it is undesirable to pass this fundamental bill in such a questionable way," Uchida said.

Nagasaki gets trial run

The government said Thursday it will approve three regional plans of unifying education systems of the elementary, junior high and high school levels, the first such move under its special deregulatory zone program.

Goto, Sasebo and Ojikacho municipalities, all in Nagasaki Prefecture, will be designated for the trial education system in December.

Goto, an island chain, plans to integrate elementary, junior high and high schools at two locations and adopt a 4-3-5 system -- four years for the elementary level education, three years for junior high and five years for the high school level -- instead of the conventional 6-3-3 system.

It has applied for the designation to prevent high schools from being consolidated and to encourage young people to stay in the municipality. Municipalities at present run compulsory public elementary and junior high schools.



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