The central government should respect the decisions of municipalities on which textbooks to use in their schools.
Taketomi town in the Yaeyama district of Okinawa Prefecture adopted a textbook different from the one agreed upon by a regional council. The town on Taketomijima island refused to redo the textbook adoption process, so the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology plans to demand that Taketomi take “corrective action” based on the Local Autonomy Law.
The government is authorized to instruct prefectural governments to demand municipalities correct illegal or improper activities. It is a rare measure that has been applied to only two municipalities in the past.
However, it would be unfair to hold Taketomi responsible for “unlawful behavior.”
In 2011, the regional council on textbook adoption comprising the three municipalities of Taketomi, Ishigaki and Yonaguni decided to adopt a junior high school civics textbook published by Ikuhosha Publishing Inc.
But the Taketomi education board, citing procedural irregularities, picked a book published by Tokyo Shoseki Co., leading to education ministry demands that Taketomi follow the council’s decision.
After the ministry decided not to provide the textbooks for free to Taketomi, the town bought Tokyo Shoseki’s textbooks with donations from volunteers and distributed them to junior high school students.
Tokyo Shoseki’s textbooks passed the government screening process. Since students can use them free of charge, the board’s decision does not mean the children’s right to receive education has been violated.
At the root of the problem is a contradiction between two laws.
The free textbook measures law stipulates that municipalities within the same adoption district choose the same textbooks. But the local education administrative law states that municipal education boards have the right to adopt textbooks.
The Cabinet later decided that the free textbook measures law should take precedence, but there were not any rules when the problem occurred. Therefore, Taketomi cannot be said to be unilaterally wrong on the issue.
For this reason, the education ministry consulted with the Cabinet Legislation Bureau and presented the following view: “Although the textbooks cannot be provided for free, we cannot go so far as to say Taketomi’s adoption is invalid. The government cannot prohibit the town from buying the textbooks at its own expense.”
But the ministry’s demand for corrective action does not agree with this stance.
The regional adoption system was established so that cooperation by a number of municipalities would ease the burden of screening textbooks and reduce administrative costs. In other words, it is a matter of efficiency.
Ideally, schools and municipalities should select textbooks that meet their educational policies.
A Cabinet decision in March 2009 states that from the viewpoint of independence and diversity of school education, selection of textbooks by individual schools should be studied. It also states that reducing the size of the adoption districts should be considered, including having each municipality establish textbook adoption districts.
Based on this idea, it is unreasonable for the government to demand that Taketomi use a textbook different from the one it picked and paid for with its own money.
Efficiency is not necessarily more important than independence and diversity.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 4
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