BY RYUICHI KANARI STAFF WRITER
OSAKA -- A controversial proposal to wrestle control of education from the education ministry was recently submitted to the Osaka prefectural assembly.
It was submitted by Osaka Ishin no Kai (Osaka restoration group), which is headed by Osaka's reformist Governor Toru Hashimoto.
Hashimoto says the prefectural government, not bureaucrats in Tokyo, should have the final say in education matters.
Under the proposed ordinance, the governor would have the authority to dismiss members of the prefectural board of education who don't produce results. Other personnel decisions would also be made on that basis.
If adopted, it would represent a major shift in postwar education policy and could spread across the nation. At the same time, the proposed ordinance has drawn criticism from education experts who say it could lead to more political intervention in the nation's classrooms.
Yoshikazu Sakai, 66, a former judge who now serves in the Osaka prefectural assembly, was involved in drafting the proposed ordinance. He was asked what the ordinance sought to bring to the education sector.
Excerpts of the interview follow:
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Question: Because politics and education went hand in hand until the end of World War II, a new system was introduced to make the education system politically neutral. What was wrong with that system?
Sakai: It meant that politics had no role to play in education, and this made it impossible to reflect the opinions of the public. As a result, schools came under the control of education ministry bureaucrats. A case in point was the change to a more lenient curriculum. The responsibility for that failed policy was never made clear. We have to return education to the hands of the public and away from irresponsible bureaucrats.
Q: The proposal calls for the governor to decide goals in education. Rather than returning education to the public, wouldn't that be in a sense returning education to politicians?
A: Politicians garner support in elections. A judgment on how they did rests with voters. We think education should be modeled on the same principle.
Q: The preamble calls for fostering individuals who can make their way in this new interconnected world. Does that not indicate that the focus is only on elite education?
A: People need more than development of character to get through their lives. We will determine the course the world is moving toward amid the rapid changes taking place in the international community and reflect that in the curriculum. A nation with no natural resources such as Japan has to utilize its human resources. But this country has lost its competitiveness through a fostering of individuals in which everyone gets along because of the group mentality that persists.
The key for this will center on devolving authority to local governments. Municipalities across a wide area will set out to determine what they want to do based on the responsibility of politicians. Mistakes inevitably will be made. Nevertheless, a better approach will open up and that would be an improvement over wholesale mistakes arising from a reliance on a uniform education.
Q: What are some of the specific steps that are being planned?
A: While the major goals will be decided by the governor, we will give authority to individual schools so they can experiment as well. We will give principals the authority to make personnel decisions as well as the right to make budgetary requests. In exchange, if they fail, they will be forced to resign to take responsibility. Instead of coming under the control of irresponsible bureaucrats, schools will become hives of activity because of the sense of tension that will arise.
Q: Shouldn't the role of education focus on fostering individuals at all levels, and not just the elite?
A: We are hoping to set up multiple streams in education. By recognizing the differences in ability, we could, for example, reduce compulsory education from the current nine years to seven years. This would allow the children to spend the two remaining years doing whatever they want, be it studies, sports or hobbies.
We eventually also want to allow children to skip grades. Looking at the history of humanity, outstanding individuals have created new technology and philosophies without being bound by a particular system. Without that, we will not be able to win in international competition.
Q: What is your view of the strong resistance that has arisen from schools over the brazen competitiveness in the proposal, including a curved evaluation system that would give the lowest appraisal to about 5 percent of teachers?
A: We are seeking to impose strict standards because there are bad teachers in every workplace and they have made their students unhappy. There is no need to listen to the excuses of civil servants who do not want to make the effort. If the figures are low, the only thing to do is make the effort to raise the figures.
Q: While you have said schools would be allowed to undertake trial-and-error efforts, what will happen to the children who become entangled in the mistakes?
A: That is why we want to establish an environment that will allow for the free selection of schools. We will abolish the school district system, introduce a school selection system and release the results of achievement tests by schools. In that way, parents and their children can use that information to choose the school they want their offspring to attend. Because they are making the choice, they will have to assume responsibility for the result of that decision. They will not be able to only make complaints.
Q: What is your ideal educational model?
A: The reforms by (former British Prime Minister) Margaret Thatcher. She resuscitated Britain by introducing a performance-based system for evaluating teachers and releasing the results of achievement tests. Competition will lead to progress.
From Silicon Valley, which attracts people from around the world, I learned that an individual with outstanding ability in one area will succeed while average people will not.
Japan also needs a place like that.
Q: The British reforms are also said to have led to greater disparity. In the United States, unemployed young people are protesting Wall Street's corporate greed. What do you think about this?
A: I believe it is alright to create disparity. There are other systems to correct disparities, such as the taxation system and social welfare. There is a need to foster outstanding individuals even if that means accepting disparities.