The Japanese government wants “schools to preserve traditional values of family and nation”. This is the main objective of a bill to revise the 1947 Fundamental Law on Education which the Lower House of Japan adopted on 16 November.
However, EI affiliate Nikkyoso and all opposition parties are strongly opposing the bill which is believed to promote a narrow view of nationalism and to force patriotism on students and teachers.
Nikkyoso President Yasuo Morikoshi has warned that the bill, which is expected to pass the Upper House on 15 December, will also affect teachers’ freedom of expression. The teacher union has mounted a nationwide campaign against the bill.
On 25 November, the union organised an extraordinary assembly followed by a protest demonstration through the centre of Tokyo. Several thousand teachers from all over the country demonstrated their anger over the bill and over the government’s failure to consult teachers on the revision.
Morikoshi assured the angry teachers that Nikkyoso will not give up resisting the revision. He stressed that the bill had been rushed through in an undemocratic manner and that, according to the polls, only 4% of the population support it.
EI General Secretary Fred van Leeuwen attended the rally. He said that education should be built on universal values of understanding and tolerance, and that there should be no place in schools for imposed nationalism and patriotism. He also said that the implications of the bill for Japan’s teaching profession could be in conflict with international standards.
The Fundamental Law on Education was drafted in 1947 during the allied occupation of Japan.
It was never amended, and critics have said it does not reflect traditional Japanese thinking and that it has weakened traditional values. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who leads a conservative coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, has placed the revision of the education law high on his agenda. Nikkyoso officials believe that the revision will help Abe’s government to pave the way for a revision of Japan’s constitution.
The revision diverts attention from the real issues confronting Japan’s education system, teachers say.
According to Nikkyoso, the controversy surrounding the revision of the education law is diverting attention away from the real issues that are confronting the country’s education system today.
Japan’s school system is still very much oriented towards competition and discipline. Some believe there is a link between the high demands placed on students and the extraordinarily high rate of suicides among children aged 18 and under. According to the National Policy Agency’s figures, the number of teenage suicides was 608 in 2005.
Bullying at school is also considered one of Japan’s most urgent problems. In conservative circles, fingers are being pointed at the slackening discipline in schools and Nikkyoso and its members for giving students too much freedom.
For many years, Nikkyoso has been urging the authorities to attend to the weaknesses of the education system. The union has also pleaded for measures against societal alienation of children due to “Kokoro-no-are” (emotional and mental stress).