Unclear why pro-Pyongyang schools should be free
It is an enigmatic keepsake from former Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
Kan told former Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Yoshiaki Takaki on Aug. 29, shortly before his resignation as prime minister, to resume screening procedures to include pro-Pyongyang high schools in the government's tuition waiver program.
The screening procedures were suspended in the wake of North Korea's artillery shelling of a South Korean island last November. The former prime minister's administration said the situation on the Korean Peninsula was considered to have returned to conditions prior to the shelling, but we would like to ask if there are any grounds for that.
It is true that talks between North and South Korean senior officials were held in July for the first time in two years and seven months. U.S.-North Korean talks also took place in the same month.
However, the former administration did not explain in detail its assessment of the situation on the Korean Peninsula. It is still very difficult to understand why screening procedures would be resumed on what looked like last-minute instructions from the outgoing prime minister.
New govt should explain
In the last Diet session, Kan was grilled over suspicious donations by his political funds management organization to a civic group closely connected with a relative of a suspect in the abduction of Japanese citizens to North Korea.
It is a matter of course that the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party, which has raised concerns about Kan's abrupt instruction regarding pro-Pyongyang high schools, is demanding the new administration rescind the instruction.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and education minister Masaharu Nakagawa, however, have indicated they will carry on with the former prime minister's directive.
The two said in their inauguration speeches that Kan seemed to have made the judgment based on such factors as the resumption of talks between North and South Korea.
However, we think the current Cabinet cannot obtain public understanding for resumption of the procedures unless it makes a clear explanation based on its own assessment.
The screening will take two months. If they are deemed eligible for the government's tuition waiver program, 10 pro-Pyongyang high schools around the country will receive schooling assistance grants totaling at least 200 million yen from the government to compensate them for tuition.
Since the screening procedures have already started, the education ministry must scrutinize whether the schools' accounts are transparent.
The pro-Pyongyang schools are closely linked with the General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), which is under North Korea's influence.
We are afraid the grants might be used for purposes other than waiving tuition.
The education ministry is said to check documents submitted to it by the schools, but if necessary, the ministry should send officials to the schools and seek direct explanations from their administrators.
Program needs review
Some observers say students at pro-Pyongyang schools may have been taught untruths about the abduction of Japanese nationals by North Korea and other issues.
According to screening standards set by the education ministry, if problems are found in the curriculum or other elements of a school, the education minister can inform its administrator about them as points of concern.
If any problem is found during the screening procedures, the education minister should strongly urge school officials to improve it voluntarily.
Reviewing the government's high school tuition waiver program, which has been advocated by the Democratic Party of Japan-led governments, is also a pressing issue.
A joint agreement reached by the DPJ, the LDP and New Komeito includes a clause that they would discuss necessary reviews of what form the waiver program should take from next fiscal year.
We hope the new administration will study the effects of the program thoroughly, considering the nation's difficult fiscal condition.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Sept. 9, 2011)