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Editorial: Education ministry's probe into ex-official's lecture inappropriate

The education ministry excessively meddled with school classes when it recently emailed the Nagoya Municipal Board of Education asking for a recording and the details of a lecture given by Kihei Maekawa, former administrative vice education minister, at a public junior high school in the city. The move deserves criticism as government intervention in education.

The lecture was delivered in mid-February during a general studies class for all students at the school as well as local residents, at the request of the school's principal, who was acquainted with Maekawa.

During the speech, Maekawa reportedly talked about his own experience of not going to school in his childhood and about night classes at junior high school, among other topics.

The reaction by Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology to the lecture upon learning about it via news reports is astounding.

In an email sent to the Nagoya city education board, the ministry explained that Maekawa had resigned as administrative vice minister to take responsibility for a revolving door lobbying scandal at the ministry, and asked questions about 15 items, such as the content of the lecture and the reason for asking Maekawa to give the lesson. "What was the main reason for hosting such a lecture?" one of the questions asked.

The school in response gave an outline of the lecture to the city education board, but is said to have declined to provide the audio recordings. It is only natural for the school to have refused to submit the audio data.

As a general rule, the education ministry is not supposed to meddle in the content of each class given at school. The ministry's role is to formulate national standards of education, such as educational guidelines, and improve educational conditions.

The Basic Act on Education stipulates that "education must not be subject to improper controls." This provision was created out of regret for prewar education whose content was controlled by the government. If the education ministry is to probe the content of each class, schools may see it as pressure. Such a move could cause schools and teachers to wither, and deprive schools of their autonomy.

A particular point of concern is that Maekawa had been criticizing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration over a favoritism scandal involving Kake Educational Institution, which is headed by a close friend of Abe.

It has been reported that the director-general of the education ministry's Elementary and Secondary Education Bureau approved the ministry's inquiry regarding the lecture. Was the ministry's move intended to demonstrate that Maekawa's actions are under surveillance?

Questions also remain over education minister Yoshimasa Hayashi's response to the issue. He verbally cautioned the head of the ministry bureau in charge, saying that the ministry's email to the education board could "cause misunderstanding." However, Hayashi indicated that the inquiry itself was not problematic on the grounds that the bureau "needed to confirm the purpose of the class and how and why (Maekawa) was invited."

The Act on the Organization and Operation of Local Educational Administration stipulates that the education ministry can conduct investigations into education boards. However, this provision is premised on urgent situations such as violations of laws or school bullying. Maekawa's lecture in no way constitutes such a situation.

The education ministry should reinvestigate how its request to the Nagoya education board came to be issued and announce the results of the probe.

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