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Thursday, June 21, 2007

Q&A

New laws to reshape education system


Staff writer

Bills to revise four education-related laws were passed by the Diet on Wednesday.

Following are questions and answers concerning the revision of the School Education Law, the Law Concerning Organization and Functions of Local Educational Administration, the Education Personnel Certification Law, and the education personnel special law:

Why did the government want to change the laws?

The changes are part of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's overall education reform plan. When he took office last September, he pledged to reform the public education system in response to concerns about problems that include bullying and disruptive classroom environments.

To realize the pledge, the Education Rebuilding Council, a government advisory panel created last October, and the Central Council for Education, the main standing panel to the education minister, proposed changes to the laws.

What are the major changes to the School Education Law? How are the changes expected to affect public school education?

Following the revision to the Fundamental Law of Education last December, the School Education Law was changed to include instilling a sense of patriotism and discipline in students as goals of compulsory education.

In line with the revision, academic guidelines for elementary, junior high and high schools would be changed by the end of next March. Then, based on the new academic guidelines, textbooks would be revised, according to an education ministry official. These textbooks would be in schools a few years later.

Critics say the revision may force students to display patriotic attitudes that eventually revive the type of militant nationalism Japan saw in the prewar era.

The revision also allows kindergartens, elementary schools and junior high schools to add more managerial posts, including vice principal, managing teacher and advising teacher, to improve school oversight and improve the instruction of both teachers and students. It will take effect next April 1.

According to the ministry, boards of education are likely to create new managerial posts at large schools to improve management efficiency.

The measure is a response to criticism that principals' heavy workloads have prevented them from swiftly handling problems such as bullying and devoting time to improving teachers' skills. But opponents fear such posts could give management too much power over teachers.

What are the major changes to the education personnel laws?

Under the Education Personnel Certification Law, teachers are required to renew their licenses every 10 years to update their skills. Currently, they do not renew their licenses. Roughly 100,000 teachers are expected to take such a training course every year.

The government plans to renew the licenses of those who go through a 30-hour training course and are judged competent by local boards of education. Those who do not take the course or are judged incompetent at the end of the course will lose their license.

Under the revised education personnel special law, boards of education can, on the basis of the opinions of students' parents and educational and medical experts, deem teachers incompetent.

Teachers judged incompetent would have to take a special training course possibly lasting up to one year. The boards can take other measures, including dismissal, against teachers who are judged incompetent again at the end of the training course.

What are the major changes to the local educational administration law?

The revision allows the education minister to order boards of education to take corrective action if they fail to follow education-related laws or otherwise neglect their duties.

For example, last fall, local boards were criticized for allegedly overlooking the fact that more than 650 high schools had not offered enough of the required classes for students to graduate. In such cases, the minister can step in and demand that the boards carry out corrective measures.

In addition, the revision requires boards to include at least one parent of a student, and allows more parents to serve as well. Currently, boards of education are composed of five to six people mainly from academia and former teachers.

What are some of the arguments against the revisions?

Some education experts and teachers have said changing the laws would have a negative impact on schools because they increase the government's power over teachers and schools.

They argue that such strong government control over schools and teachers could discourage them from trying new ideas in the classroom or dampen the liberal environment for fear the central government may interfere with their attempts. This situation, they argue, could keep students from trying to do anything but take the safest path.

Will the revisions to the laws complete the government's education reform drive?

No. The Education Rebuilding Council and the Central Council for Education are discussing further measures.

For instance, increasing class hours by 10 percent by abolishing the five-day school system next fiscal year is one idea proposed by the EDC. The panel says students' academic levels have been deteriorating and Japan must rethink its more relaxed education policy, which was begun in 2002 with the cutting of textbook content by 30 percent and the dropping of Saturdays as a school day.



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