EDITORIAL: Improving education
2008/7/3Following the 2006 revision to the Fundamental Law of Education, the government has set its first basic plan for the promotion of education. While the plan covers a variety of policies, its apparent attempt to please everybody makes it seem wishy-washy.
Numerical targets for the number of teachers and educational budgets that were the focal points of the debate were all deleted from the education ministry's original draft.
The basic plan was supposed to set policies and measures for the next five years with an eye on how education ought to be 10 years from now. But the report submitted by the Central Council for Education, an advisory panel to the education minister, did not include numerical targets. The inadequacy of the report prompted a loud outcry from not only schools and teachers, but also the ruling parties, who argued numerical targets are necessary to improve education.
So the ministry hastily added numerical targets to the basic plan, including these: Educational budgets' share of gross domestic product should be raised to 5 percent, which is the OECD average, from the current 3.5 percent. And 25,000 more teachers and administrative staff should be hired.
Those figures were thrown together in a hurry. Why 5 percent? Why 25,000 additional teachers and staff? What results can be achieved by this investment?
The ministry draft failed to provide a convincing explanation. With the government already urged to cut expenditures, there was no way a simple demand for money and personnel could pass.
Even if the way the education ministry set the targets was naive, that does not mean we don't need a bold investment in education. What the basic plan lacks is a summary of the problems facing Japanese education and a prescription for solving them. If solutions had been clearly presented, the proper education funding could have been found.
For example, a big problem in today is the decline in academic standards. In particular, international surveys showed that Japanese students have not learned to think analytically and that there is a growing gap between high and low achievers.
To solve these problems, greater attention must be given to each child to meet their individual needs. The only way to do that is to increase the number of teachers dealing with students on a daily basis and improve the quality of education.
Teachers today face greater hardships than ever before. The presence of a few incompetent instructors prompted the government to introduce a system by which all teachers must renew their teaching licenses periodically. Apart from problems of bullying and truancy, there are also "monster parents" who make unreasonable demands on schools. It is no wonder fewer people are applying for teaching jobs. To recruit competent teachers, the education system must offer better pay, working conditions and effective training programs.
Distrust toward the public school system has been growing for a long time. Stopgap measures, such as the private night cram classes started at a public junior high school in Tokyo's Suginami Ward, are attracting attention and are a testament to such distrust.
As always, the government is running under a tight budget. Instead of just droning on about the importance of education, the government must steadily increase its investment in education.
--The Asahi Shimbun, July 2(IHT/Asahi: July 3,2008)