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Editorial: Equal education opportunities top priority in tuition waivers for pro-N. Korea schools

Courts in different parts of Japan have recently issued diametrically opposed rulings on the legitimacy of cutting pro-North Korean schools out of the government's secondary school tuition waiver program.

The Hiroshima District Court's July 19 decision emphasized the Hiroshima Korean School's connections to the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon), and found that excluding the school from the tuition waiver program was legal. Then, on July 28, the Osaka District Court ruled that "the government excluded Osaka Korean High School ... from the program for diplomatic and political reasons, which are irrelevant to guaranteeing equal opportunity in education. Therefore, the decision is illegal and invalid."

To qualify for the free tuition program, a school must be able to guarantee that it "is managed appropriately based on laws and ordinances."

Based on a separate civil case decision regarding Hiroshima Korean School, the Hiroshima court stated that the institution "has in the past misappropriated assets under the direction of Chongryon." It further pointed out that the court could find no news reports that the school had shifted away from Chongryon's control after the previous ruling, and that therefore the pro-North Korean organization retained its influence over the high school. The judge concluded that this meant the school was not "managed appropriately" as required by the tuition waiver program.

On the opposite side of the coin, the Osaka District Court stated that judging whether Osaka Korean High School was appropriately managed needed to be based on an objective evaluation of the school's financial affairs and other factors. The court found that by these criteria the high school was indeed run appropriately, as the school's operator and suit plaintiff Osaka Chosen Gakuen had prepared financial statements as required by the Private Schools Act and had never been subject to administrative punishment by Osaka Prefecture.

The Japanese government's attorneys argued that, based on Public Security Intelligence Agency reports and news articles in the Sankei Shimbun daily, "there are concerns that the school operator, under the unreasonable control of Chongryon, will misappropriate subsidy funds." The court, however, found that there was no evidence to logically support this argument.

Regarding the high school's curriculum, the Osaka court acknowledged that it included content praising North Korea, but that the school also used plenty of supplementary educational materials and taught the students a diversity of viewpoints. Thus, the court "cannot accept that (the school) has lost its independence."

The antecedents of the present pro-Pyongyang private schools were "language training centers" established across the country by North Korean residents of Japan soon after World War II so their children would have somewhere to learn Korean. Classes are conducted in Korean, but the schools also follow the Japanese government curriculum guidelines for mathematics and other subjects.

Current students are mostly fourth-generation Korean residents born and raised in Japan, and most Japanese universities accept the schools' graduates' applications to take entrance exams.

In light of such historical and present circumstances, equality of educational opportunities through the tuition waiver program should be guaranteed. It is based on this principle that we believe the Osaka court's decision was the right one. The government needs to reconsider its support payment policy.

If the government is to have pro-Pyongyang schools adjust their relationship with Chongryon and what they teach, it should do so through instructions to the schools. But no restrictions should be forced onto their students.

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