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2008年12月 6日 (土)


2008/12/6 --The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 5(IHT/Asahi: December 6,2008)

EDITORIAL: Textbook screening


The education ministry is promising a major shakeup in one of the most contentious areas of education policy--the screening of textbooks. Its plan is to enhance transparency of textbook screening and authorization by disclosing, albeit in piecemeal fashion, what is involved in the process.


Private companies publish textbooks that students use in school. Under the current system, the ministry examines textbook content and expressions and orders revisions and modifications if necessary.


Textbook examiners who are hired from among researchers as employees of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology submit written opinions, which are put before the Textbook Authorization and Research Council, a body comprised of academics and intellectuals. Based on its conclusion, the ministry requests textbook companies to amend passages.


What is surprising is the closed nature of the process. The council's proceedings are closed to the public. So are the contents of the written opinions and the outline of deliberations. Moreover, even the names of examiners and council members are kept secret.


According to the ministry, this is so members can work in "a quiet environment for discussion." Last year, the ministry under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe requested publishers of senior high school Japanese history textbooks to delete references to the Imperial Japanese Army forcing Okinawan civilians to commit mass suicides during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. This prompted a massive outcry in Okinawa Prefecture, and the government had to allow publishers to reinstate the entries.

The ministry's decision to shed light on the screening process was made in response to the controversy.


According to the ministry's proposals, the names of the examiners and the subjects they were in charge of would be made public. After the completion of the screening and authorization process, the contents of opinions written by the examiners, the outline of deliberations and the names of council members who attended the deliberations will also be disclosed. Apparently, the ministry believes this is the limit of what it can do without inviting outside intervention.


The new policy will at least allow us to learn about the opinions expressed by various individuals that form the basis of recommendations for revision, albeit after the fact. If council members fear that their utterances will enter the public domain, they should probably be more careful about what they say in discussing textbook screening. The public can also use the information to watch the next screening process.


But the ministry has not gone far enough. Suppose a situation similar to the Okinawa suicide issue occurs, the public will only learn about it after a conclusion has been reached. Had written opinions been made public during the screening process, experts on the Battle of Okinawa would have spoken out.


Moreover, the council will remain closed and no minutes of deliberations will be kept. By contrast, the Central Council for Education, which deliberates government guidelines for teaching that serve as a basis for writing textbooks, is open as a general rule.


It is frustrating that we can only find out about the opinions of examiners after the screening is completed. This is all the more true if the contents of the written opinions serve as the basis for later deliberations.


The problem does not only concern history textbooks. In all subjects, textbooks are important materials from which students learn. How are the contents of textbooks decided? Are there no irrational points or biased views? There is nothing wrong with exposing the process to as many people as possible. Reforms to further enhance transparency are indispensable.


How should textbook screening be conducted? How necessary is textbook screening and authorization in the first place? Such fundamental debate is also needed.



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