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Editorial: Fault for tardy decision on private English exams belongs to education ministers

The introduction of private English tests as part of university entrance examinations, which had been scheduled for academic 2020, has been postponed. Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Minister Koichi Hagiuda was forced to make the decision and announce it on Nov. 1 after government waffling on the issue.

Criticism of the plan had intensified after Hagiuda said, "People should choose to compete for university places in accordance with their standing," despite it being pointed out that the test-taking scheme created economic and regional disparities.

Touching on these disparities, Hagiuda told a Nov. 1 news conference, "The system is not in such a state that we can recommend it to entrance exam applicants with confidence," acknowledging that the plan was flawed. It comes as no surprise that the private tests' introduction has been postponed as long as there are no prospects that the disparities can be ironed out by spring.

It has been pointed out that it would be difficult to evaluate the results of the seven approved private tests, which all have different difficulty levels and assumed test-takers, in a fair manner. It is a seriously flawed system in terms of ensuring entrance exam fairness.

The National Association of Upper Secondary School Principals urged the education ministry this past September to postpone the system's introduction. The ministry turned a deaf ear to the request and tried to push ahead with the private exams' introduction in the 2020 academic year.

However, the ministry reversed its decision after Hagiuda came under fire for his "in accordance with their standing" statement. Opposition parties grilled the education minister over the remark, while some within the governing camp have also raised questions.

The latest decision was apparently aimed at fending off public criticism of the government over its handling of the issue rather than at considering equal opportunity in education and applicants' feelings.

The very late move, which came just before the system's planned introduction, will inevitably cause confusion to university entrance exam applicants as well as to high school educators.

Applicants have prepared for private English tests on the assumption that they would be introduced in the 2020 academic year. Organizations that administer these exams were trying to secure test sites. The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry and past education ministers, who forcibly went ahead with the introduction of the system, bear heavy responsibility.

Hagiuda's "in accordance with their standing" statement, which revealed his lack of understanding of the need to ensure equal opportunity in education, has called his qualifications as education minister -- the very person who oversees university entrance exams -- into question.

The ministry intends to review the system over the next year and introduce a new system to measure applicants' English reading, listening, speaking and writing skills in the examinations for the 2024 school year.

Entrance exams must be implemented uniformly and fairly throughout the country. It was obviously unreasonable for private businesses, which must consider their profit margins, to administer the exams in the first place. The government should go back to the drawing board in their discussions to create an applicant-oriented system.

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