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Abe suggested free education as part of constitutional revision

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe suggested including free education as an issue for constitutional revision when he met with Okiharu Yasuoka, chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution, in October last year, it has been learned.

The details of Abe's discussion were disclosed by sources from both the LDP and the opposition Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party, JIP). Free education is included in a draft revision to the Constitution created by JIP.

The LDP subsequently listed free education as a theme for constitutional amendment discussion. The party apparently views the issue as one that the opposition parties and the public would easily agree with. It is expected that the issue will be a point of focus in narrowing down issues for constitutional revision, a process that will move into full swing following the convening of a regular session of the Diet on Jan. 20.

Sources said that Abe told Yasuoka that he wanted him to talk with the people saying they want to change the Constitution, and collaborate with them.

At a gathering associated with the House of Representatives Commission on the Constitution on Dec. 8 last year, the LDP listed eight items as themes for future discussion, and outlined a move to make education free. The LDP and JIP are poised to launch informal talks between their members of the lower house Commission on the Constitution.

In its draft for constitutional revision released in March last year, the JIP included an article stating, "Education from infancy to higher education shall be free." In addition to compulsory education, the JIP envisages making education free at kindergartens, day care centers, high schools, universities, vocational schools and other such institutions.

The largest opposition Democratic Party (DP) has also made a pledge for the next lower house election to make education free, and the LDP and JIP plan to seek the assent of the DP in their move, but the DP remains cautious, taking the view that education can be made free through legislative measures without stipulating so in the Constitution. The party has calculated that it will cost 5 trillion yen to make education free. It is possible that the issues of how to secure resources for the move, the selection of schools, and whether to set income restrictions will emerge as points at issue.

The second clause of Article 26 of the Constitution states that "compulsory education shall be free." The government has additionally provided a system covering part of or the whole amount of high school tuition fees.

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