(1) Current Status of Education in Japan and the Challenges of the Future

 Thanks to strong public enthusiasm for education and the efforts of diverse parties since the Meiji era, education has been playing a significant role in Japan in raising the public’s intellect, and supporting the social development of this country. Japan’s primary and secondary education is especially well known for its rare but successful performance of securing high-level educational standards among the public while providing equal educational opportunities for all citizens at the same time, and this performance is highly evaluated by the international society. Now we often see local communities provide educational programs regionally under strong ties among neighbors.

 At the same time, urbanization is accelerating under a declining birthrate and social maturity, where people seek to live in affluence. Some problems have also been popping up more recently, including the weakened educational functions of families and local communities and the tendency for people to feel difficulty in finding a sense of purpose or motivation. Actually, we are hearing concerns over diverse problems such as children’s declining motivation to learn, falling academic performance, weakened physical strengths, increasing problem behaviors, etc.

 Seeing the scandals and crimes that recently occurred in official and private sectors in this country and became issues of public concern, some people attribute them to the deteriorated norm or lowered ethics of social leaders. We have also been hearing anxiety that assumes the general tendency of individuals in this society to lose their sense of responsibility, sense of justice or ambition.

 It is possible to consider that such tendency shows a combined outcome of multiple social trends, including excessive pursuit of economic efficiency or convenience, weakened social ties and spread of undesirable “individualism” or “me-ism.” However, the pursuit of material abundance from the economic viewpoint alone would never lead to the materialization of a truly rich society.

 In order for our society to achieve sustainable development while maintaining fairness and vitality, it is necessary for us and our social systems to not only pursue socioeconomic sustainability but to also turn to inner values, such as the pleasure of living in harmony with other people and the importance of morals for such harmonization.

 At the same time, with such rapid social changes as the declining birthrate and increasing elderly population, increasing sophisticated use of information and internationalization, Japan is facing diverse challenges. These challenges include social security problems, environmental issues, difficulties in sustaining economic vitality, widening regional disparities, socioeconomic disparities feared to be transmitted from generation to generation and hard work to ensure security and safety in society.

 In the international society, where globalization has caused competition to intensify among countries , there are also serious issues we need to tackle with the combined efforts of the entire world, such as the issues of the global environment and food and energy problems. Also, the issues of ethnic conflicts, religious confrontations and international terrorism are threatening the safety of people on this planet.

 Furthermore, Japan is expected to face rapider-than-ever social changes in the near future. Although it is difficult to grasp the whole picture of such changes, we can expect the following to occur in about ten years.
-With birthrates declining further, the population will decrease and the ratio of young people to the entire population will decline. At the same time, Japan will be a super aged society where elderly people of sixty-five years old or older occupy one-fourth of the total population. To address this situation, the country will be required to reconstruct its social systems, including education systems.
-Due to the acceleration of globalization as well as the economic growth of China and other countries, international competition will be further intensified. At the same time, Japanese people will have more exchange opportunities with foreigners inside and outside the country, and harmonious coexistence of different cultures will be definitely required. Also, Japan will fully become a “knowledge-based society” where knowledge is the driving force of socioeconomic development, and “soft power” that is based on intellectual and cultural values will play a more important role internationally. Also, with further development of science and technology, the ability of innovations to create new social and economic values will become even more significant.
-Various environmental issues, such as global warming, will grow more complex and serious, and people will be required more than ever to ensure environmental sustainability. In educational fields, the idea of Education for Sustainable Development will become more and more important to establish a sustainable society.
-Industrial structural changes will be further promoted, such as expansion of the service industry. With further changes in the work environment, such as the increased use of temps and the changes in employment style and conditions, through the introduction of a result-oriented system or performance-based pay system for example, it will become more important to develop vocational abilities of individuals, secure employment, establish social systems that allow retirees or dropouts to be employed again, and ensure that each worker has a good work-life balance.
-People’s sense of value and lifestyle will be further diversified. Because communication through the internet or mobile phones will further increase, it will become necessary to address their harmful effects. On the other hand, people tend to be more dedicated to society or community building through volunteering, etc. and new styles of social participation will emerge and expand.

 In view of the aforementioned expected changes inside and outside the country that influence us, it is now necessary for us to face up to them and find ways to obtain wisdom and abilities to overcome difficulties.

(2) Mission of education

 Education is essential to building character through unique personality development, improvement of abilities, acquisition of independence and lifelong pursuit of a happy life. At the same time, education takes on a mission to nurture the citizens who form the country and society. Education also empowers us to sustain a democratic society. Furthermore, throughout the history of mankind, cultures and civilizations have been transmitted from one generation to another through the intermediation of education, and have evolved into a richer state. Such role of education is universal regardless of how our society changes in the future.

 At the same time, when we envisage our society in the future, we expect the roles of education to be more significant than ever, from the following aspects.

 Facing rapid social changes, each person is now required more than ever to be independent and capable of self-control and cooperation with other people. It is necessary to secure learning opportunities for all people in a way that guarantees quality education above a certain standard and also ensures lifelong learning so as to assist in building character, improving motivation to participate in society and acquire knowledge, and developing skills necessary in life and work.

 International competition is expected to further intensify in the future. In light of this, in order to maintain or improve Japan’s social vitality and contribute to the international society, it is essential for diverse fields to develop human resources that have great prescience, creativity or excellent leadership. Education is hoped to play an important part in such human resources development.

 With the expected decline of population and increase of elderly people in Japan, it is anticipated from a mid- or long-term prospect that public services to be provided directly by “public sectors” such as the national or local governments will be further concentrated into the minimum level necessary and that people will increase their demand for activities of “private sectors” dedicated to public welfare.

 Under such circumstances, the individuals who form society should have a sense of public duty for the maintenance and improvement of the society with the aim of realizing a rich, happy life for each citizen and sustainable development of society. Such commitment to society building and pro-activeness will be more important than ever.

 One of the major challenges that Japanese society will face in the future is to recover bonds between people and reconstruct communities. It is necessary to put greater emphasis on the mission of education to develop the ability of individuals to participate in society voluntarily, support other people and fulfill their respective responsibilities as members of society.

(3) For realizing “an education-based nation”

 In December 2006, the Basic Act on Education was revised in light of the change of diverse situations surrounding education, to specify the basic principles of new age education. In Article 2 of the Act, newly introduced objectives of education are specified particularly as follows.

  1. To foster an attitude to acquire wide-ranging knowledge and culture, and to seek the truth, cultivate a rich sensibility and sense of morality, while developing a healthy body.
  2. To develop individual abilities while respecting the values of each individual; to cultivate their creativity; foster a spirit of autonomy and independence; and foster an attitude to value labor while emphasizing the connections with career and practical life.
  3. To foster a value for justice, responsibility, gender equality, mutual respect and cooperation, and active contribution, in the public spirit, to the building and development of society.
  4. To foster an attitude to respect life, care for nature, and contribute to the protection of the environment.
  5. To foster an attitude to respect our traditions and culture, love the country and region that nurtured them, along with respect for other countries, and a desire to contribute to world peace and the development of the international community.

 When the above principles of the revised Basic Act on Education are translated from the viewpoint of the idealized image of a human being, they can be summarized into the following three objectives.
-To bring up people whose intelligence, morals and physical strength are well-balanced, and who are independent and seek self-realization throughout a lifetime.
-To bring up citizens who respect a sense of public duty and voluntarily participate in the formation of the country and society.
-To raise Japanese people who participate in the international society with respect for the traditions and culture of Japan and other countries.

 When we squarely face the above-mentioned current problems and social changes surrounding education, the significance of education, or undertaking of bringing up people, is clear: education makes it possible for people to realize happiness and for the country and society to grow and make progress. Education is the driving force of the prosperity of our country into the future. Now is the time for us to declare our commitment anew to “an education-based nation” and make efforts to promote education, so that we can realize the principles of the revised Basic Act on Education. We believe that Japan aims for the establishment of a society that allows all people to enjoy equal learning opportunities so as to build character and improve ourselves. The ultimate goal is to ensure freedom, high intellectual and moral standards, sustainability and richness in our society, while contributing to the international society to gain trust and respect around the world.

 Japan has achieved successful results through the promotion of education in its revolutionary era, when education helped people sustain society. The significance of education is increasing in Japan, as the country is on course to becoming a high-level knowledge-based society and facing intensified international competition in the future. Now that the Basic Act on Education has been revised for the first time in about sixty years and the country is supposed to pave the way to the new age of education, it is important for the national and local governments to focus on education measures and combine efforts throughout the country to promote education.

 Based on the above understanding, this Basic Plan for the Promotion of Education, which has been established pursuant to Article 17 of the revised Basic Act on Education, shows an educational vision which should be pursued over the next ten years with the aim to realize the principles of the revised Basic Act on Education, and also explains measures to be implemented comprehensively and systematically during the period between fiscal years 2008 and 2012.

(Office for the Promotion of Educational Reform, Policy Planning and Coordination Division, Lifelong Learning Policy Bureau)