The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has basically approved a draft of a constitutional clause on the improvement of education which had been under debate in the party's Headquarters for the Promotion of Revision to the Constitution.
Under the proposal, a third paragraph stating that the government "must endeavor to improve the environment for education" would be added to Article 26, which provides for the right to receive education.
Child poverty has become a social problem in Japan. The government must strive to ensure that everybody enthusiastic about learning can receive education equally. However, the Constitution is not at fault for the country's failure to achieve this goal.
Debate within the LDP on revisions to constitutional provisions for education gained momentum after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe proposed the matter in May 2017 along with amending war-renouncing Article 9 to provide for the existence of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF).
By agreeing to opposition Nippon Ishin's insistence that education be made free of charge, the LDP apparently aimed to gain the opposition party's cooperation for amending Article 9. Nippon Ishin has proposed to add a third paragraph to Article 26 to stipulate that "education from preschool to higher education shall be free of charge," expanding the current constitutional guarantee of a free elementary and junior high school education -- which is compulsory -- to cover high school and university.
However, the LDP had previously had no such intention, as evidenced by the party's lambasting of the previous Democratic Party of Japan-led administration's policy to make high school education free as "pork-barreling without philosophy."
When the LDP's constitutional reform headquarters began discussing the issue, it faced the problem of how to secure financial resources to cover the cost. Even if the LDP were to achieve the goal of free high school and university education, it could give rise to inequality depending on whether people advance to university or not. After all, the headquarters stopped short of incorporating making higher education free in a summary of points of contention on constitutional revisions, which the organization worked out at the end of last year.
Still, in a bid to win understanding from Nippon Ishin, the constitutional revision headquarters included a paragraph in its draft stating that there shall be no discrimination in education for economic reasons. However, Article 14 of the current Constitution, which provides for equality under law, already states that "there shall be no discrimination in political, economic, or social relations."
Moreover, the Basic Act on Education clearly provides for equal opportunity in education as a principle based on the Constitution, even if it is not written into the supreme law.
The LDP obviously needs cooperation from Nippon Ishin in proposing a draft of a new Constitution in the Diet to secure enough votes for revision. However, the LDP has proposed to incorporate a vague phrase on the principle of equal opportunity in education in the Constitution apparently because it cannot accept making higher education free. If so, the LDP deserves criticism that it is using Article 26 as a tool for revising Article 9.
Nippon Ishin panned the LDP's proposal and is demanding that free higher education be incorporated in the supreme law.
These moves highlight the LDP's self-contradictions, as the party continues to discuss constitutional revision almost solely in terms of political maneuvering.