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Editorial: Respect high school students' independence over political activities

The government's decision to allow high school students to participate in political activities outside their schools with the lowering of the minimum voting age from 20 to 18 has sparked related developments. A Mainichi Shimbun survey has shown that boards of education in nine prefectures and major ordinance-designated cities are considering introducing a system to require high school students to notify their schools when they participate in political activities.

    A notice issued by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry this past October has lifted a ban on high school students' participation in political activities outside their schools. Since the notice allows school authorities to be involved in students' political activities only in a limited way, requiring high school students to notify their schools about their overall political activities could be excessive intervention. The education community should reconfirm the principle of respecting students' independence.

    Based on an old notice it issued in 1969 when student movements were at their peak, the ministry had restricted high school students' involvement in political activities both inside and outside schools from the viewpoint of education. The new notice that the ministry issued in October in response to the lowering of the minimum voting age continues to ban high school students' political activities at their schools.

    However, the notice lifted the ministry's longstanding ban on high school students' political activities outside their schools saying, "Students should be involved in political activities at their own discretion with the understanding of their families." The move is based on the fact that 18-year-old students will have the right to vote and the recognition that it is necessary to respect students' independence with the aim of nurturing their interest in politics, as a growing number of younger people are losing an interest in politics.

    Nevertheless, nine education boards are considering mandating students to notify their schools in advance of participating in political demonstrations and rallies. Eleven others are reportedly considering allowing schools under their jurisdiction to decide whether to obligate their students to notify school authorities over such activities.

    Demonstrations involving students and other youths opposed to the security-related legislation drew public attention this year. Schools may not be able to dispel their concerns unless they grasp their students' moves. However, even if school authorities try to convince their students that the requirement of advance notification would not restrict students' activities, such requirements could end up allowing schools to conduct surveillance on and restrain students' activities. Moreover, such requirements could be taken as a message that it is undesirable for high school students to participate in political demonstrations and rallies.

    The new notice states that high school students' political activities "are subject to restraints within a necessary and rational range." Specifically, the notice cites illegal or violent rallies and demonstrations and those that could hinder students' studies and livelihoods as examples of cases where students' participation in political activities could be restrained. This cannot be interpreted as allowing schools to be involved in students' overall political activities.

    It is assumed that 18-year-old high school students will be involved in election campaigns outside schools. The education community should be aware that if schools excessively intervene in such activities, it could constitute an infringement on voters' rights.

    High schools face a challenge of achieving a balance between educating students as participants in the sovereignty of Japan and maintaining political neutrality. Under these circumstances, it is understandable that schools cannot dispel their concerns about how to respond to high school students' involvement in political activities. However, if schools can not respect younger people's proactive involvement in politics, it would run counter to the spirit of lowering the minimum voting age to 18.

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