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Education board apologizes over mock exam in Japan linking Islam to terrorism

Nariki Watanabe, left, and prefectural board of education head Yuji Ochiai, center, are seen apologizing at the Saga Prefectural government building on Feb. 2, 2021. (Mainichi/Mio Ikeda)

SAGA -- The head of the Saga Prefectural Board of Education has apologized after a mock English exam for high school students in this southwestern Japan prefecture was criticized over a passage that could be construed as linking Islam with terrorism.

    Yuji Ochiai, head of the Saga education board on Feb. 2 acknowledged that the situation could invite prejudice and misunderstanding. "I feel a strong sense of responsibility for it," he said.

    The passage appeared in a question in the English section for first year students, administered as part of prefecture-wide mock exams at private and public high schools across Saga Prefecture in January. It was taken from a piece of English writing by a high school student who describes their father as saying that Egyptian boys who couldn't earn money would "go to a mosque for their food and become terrorists."

    In a news conference on Feb. 2, Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Koichi Hagiuda commented, "Unfair, discriminatory language is absolutely unacceptable. The prefectural board of education should take the appropriate response to ensure this is not repeated."

    Ochiai responded, "We will work to improve understanding of human rights among public educators. We cannot be thorough with training alone, so we must deal with the issue through various approaches."

    The question was prepared by a group comprising public and private high schools in the prefecture and other bodies, headed by Nariki Watanabe. Regarding why this specific English text was selected for the test, the group explained, "It was chosen as the most distinguished piece of work at a national competition, and it was a piece that handled social issues from a high schooler's point of view, and was easy to read." But the group also said it would be improving its checking process in future.

    Kazuyo Matsushita, a specialist in human rights education who is a professor at the education department of Saga University, said, "Education workers should keep renewing their understanding of human rights whenever they receive training, and look again at the way they think about things."

    Matsushita also works providing learning support to children of foreign nationality, and said, "Children have diverse concerns. I want this issue to serve as an opportunity to think again about how we learn in Japan to interact with minorities."

    (Japanese original by Shizuka Takebayashi and Mio Ikeda, Saga Bureau)

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