Media Global Economy 2023.03.23
Improving Schooling Environment Also Important to Support Child-Rearing
The article was originally posted on JBpress on February 21, 2023
The Fumio Kishida Cabinet has positioned support for children and child-rearing as a top-priority policy.
Since this is being considered to halt the rapidly declining birthrate, the discussion is centered on the goal of raising the birthrate.
The main measures under discussion include the enhancement of child-rearing support systems and organizations for preschool children, increases in child-rearing support subsidies such as grants to support childbirth and child-rearing, and the establishment of social systems to improve the child-rearing environment for parents.
Although all of these measures are important, we notice that this discussion misses an essential point. That is the issue of improving the quality of elementary, junior high, and high school education.
Some people want to have children because it is easier to raise them economically and socially, but others have children because they want to raise a sweet child, a respectable child, even if the burden of childcare is heavy.
In particular, the generation in the middle of child raising feel great happiness that money cannot buy when they see their children enjoying a happy and fulfilling school life every day and smiling in their homes as they learn in kindergarten, elementary school, junior high school, and high school.
I believe this is the greatest joy of many people raising children.
If the parents of these child-rearing generations often talk happily about their children, the younger generation will want to have children themselves.
However, the situation in schools these days is becoming increasingly serious, with both children and parents suffering from breakdowns in classroom discipline, truancy, bullying, and other problems.
It seems understandable that seeing such a situation, some people would become less inclined to have children.
This prompts us to think that the issue of improving the educational environment for children in elementary, junior high, and high schools should be considered as another key to reversing the falling birthrate.
This is an argument that, in addition to economic and social institutional support for parents raising children, we should consider the creation of an environment where children can enjoy learning every day from the perspective of the children being raised.
The main goal of improving school education is to create a wonderful educational environment which makes children around the world wish they could be educated in Japan.
The measures to achieve this goal are so diverse that it is impossible to discuss them all here, but the key points are as follows.
First, we should enhance the content of education.
Specifically, we should achieve classes of 20 students by increasing the number of teachers; introduce a flexible curriculum to develop each student’s personal quality; enhance the educational content by increasing the number of specialized teachers in English, mathematics, science, art, morality, etc. at elementary schools; and encourage students to participate in social contribution activities.
Second, we should enhance moral education.
In order to strengthen character-building education, which has not been emphasized much in postwar school education, we should aim to nurture children’s humanity by attaching importance to traditional Japanese moral education based on Eastern philosophy.
This would hopefully prevent breakdowns in classroom discipline, truancy, bullying, etc., thereby stabilizing school management and addressing social problems.
Possible measures toward this end include enhancing moral education as a major subject in the training programs for teachers, and at the same time making it compulsory for all trainee teachers to spend a certain amount of time teaching moral education during their educational training.
Third, we should improve the working environment for teachers.
Specifically, we should increase administrative staff to reduce the administrative burden on teachers and allow them to focus on the classroom curriculum.
Fourth, the school’s educational facilities and services should be improved.
Specifically, we should bring about a radical improvement in various school facilities (classrooms adapted to the use of digital technology, computers provided to children, music and physical education facilities, etc.) in a nationwide uniform manner; further enhance school lunch services making use of local individuality; and improve cooking facilities, outsourcing methods, etc. for this purpose.
Fifth, we should improve the level of education and research at universities.
The presence of world-class universities is important for children to further develop the academic skills they have acquired in elementary, junior high, and high schools.
Specific measures include tightening the standards for obtaining university credits; introducing a system that does not allow students to advance to the next grade or graduate unless they study seriously; boosting funds for scientific research; inviting outstanding foreign professors and researchers to universities; and increasing the budget for personnel expenses for this purpose.
Such improvements in the schooling environment are truly measures to fight the falling birthrate on a different level.
The drastic improvement of the schooling environment as described above would require a significant increase in the size of the budget.
International comparison data released by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in October 2022 show that in terms of public spending on educational institutions as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP), Japan ranked 36th out of 37 countries surveyed, at 2.8% in 2019. (It ranked the lowest in 2018.)
The average was 4.1%, and Norway, ranking first, at 6.4% was more than twice as high as Japan.
We cannot evaluate the content of education based on the size of the budget alone, but it does at least reflect a nation’s basic attitude toward the education of its children.
Japan is a small country with few resources. It has been said that Japan’s only strength is its abundant human resources.
In order to maintain this pride as a nation, one idea is to set a goal of achieving the world’s highest ratio of public spending on educational institutions, thereby expressing our stance of placing importance on education.
Although the issue of securing a budget to double defense spending from 1% to 2% of GDP is being actively discussed, securing this education budget is even more important and would be a much heavier burden for the public.
However, this human resource development is the foundation of national prosperity. If excellent human resources can revitalize the Japanese economy, it will also generate the tax revenues necessary to increase the defense and education budgets.
It is highly commendable that the Kishida administration has taken up child and child-rearing policies as a top priority and is tackling them seriously.
Thus, I cannot help but hope that the administration will build a national system to cultivate excellent human resources as our national treasure.
Many business executives, politicians, and bureaucrats have been taking lessons from Mr. Yoshifumi Taguchi, a scholar of Eastern philosophy, as their mentor, under whom I have studied for more than 20 years as well.
In his book, Daigaku大学 ni Manabu Ningengaku (The Study of Character in “The Great Learning”), Mr. Taguchi writes as follows (大学, “The Great Learning,” is the name of a typical Chinese classic).
“‘Virtue is the root, while wealth is a branch’ is (omission) sometimes interpreted as ‘virtue is what counts, and wealth is not.’ However, this is a big mistake.”
“Both virtue and wealth are necessary for human life. But wealth can only be created through virtue.”
“Therefore, in order to build wealth, you must first start with virtue (omission); you cannot build wealth if you do nothing but pursue it.”
This indicates that trying to fix the disturbance of branches will not work when the root is disturbed and that to fix the disturbance of branches, you must first start by fixing the disturbance of the root.
In terms of child-rearing, the root is to raise respectable persons through school education, etc., and to halt the declining birthrate and increase the population is branches.
The current discussion on child and child-rearing policies is concentrates on branches, and not much consideration is given to the root.
It is difficult to realize the root of improving the elementary, junior high, and high school education environment, and the size of the necessary budget is large.
However, unless we take on this challenge, measures to realize branches of lifting the birthrate will not be effective.
If we refer to the teachings of “The Great Learning” 大学, we can see that the correct way to achieve branches of solving the birthrate problem is to work hard toward the root of improving the schooling environment.
In the World Competitiveness Booklet 2022 prepared by the International Institute for Management Development (IMD), a Swiss business school, Japan ranked 34th in terms of overall competitiveness.
The survey covered 63 countries, chiefly developed countries, with Denmark in first place, the U.S. in 10th, and China in 17th.
Japan ranked top from 1989 through 1992 and remained in the top five until 1996. However, its ranking has dropped since then, and it has been ranked 30th or lower for four consecutive years since 2019.
One of the main reasons for this decline in Japan’s competitiveness is the slow response of Japanese companies to globalization, which is thought to be due to a lack of excellent human resources.
Focusing on the development of excellent human resources, other countries have personnel with doctoral degrees and a high level of expertise who play a central role in corporate management and administrative operations.
In contrast, there are few people with doctoral degrees in the management teams of Japanese companies. Although we cannot evaluate management and policy administration skills based on educational backgrounds alone, it does affect the level of professional knowledge.
In order to sophisticate Japan’s human resources, it is necessary to funnel our efforts into the development of human resources with a high level of expertise to support Japan in this era of globalization.
To this end, it is vital to improve education not only in universities, but also in elementary, junior high, and high schools, which serve as a basis for university education.
I hope that Japan will fundamentally reform its education systems, develop world-class human resources, and regain first place in the world competitiveness ranking.