Education is compulsory for all citizens as stated in most constitutions of all countries which recognize the importance of human resource development for socio-economic development and nation building. A nation can lack of natural resource due to its geographical location and condition, but it cannot fall short of human resources. In another word, a knowledge-based society is better than resource-rich society since the natural resources (for example, oil and gas) will be depleted due to extraction and consumption. So, it is better to invest and depend on human resource for survival and development in the future. In a national budget for a government, a specific percentage of total annual budgets are allocated for education sector and the government has to make sure that such amount of money is used efficiently and effectively according to national education plan and strategy.
I. Overview of Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT)
As we are in the media age, science and technology has increasing significance in the field of education and economic development in which it requires a country to have comparative advantage for manufacturing specific products or performing services and compete in the free market. In East Asia, Japan is the leading country in technology and higher education and is also the second largest economy in the region. Viewing the importance of education and science and technology, Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) was established in 2001 by the merging between Ministry of Education, Culture, and the Science and Technology Agency.
According to its organizational structure, MEXT consists of major institutions, namely Minister’s Secretariat, Lifelong Learning Policy Bureau, Elementary and Secondary Education Bureau, Higher Education Bureau, Science and Technology Policy Bureau, Research Promotion Bureau, Research and Development Bureau, Sports and Youth Bureau, and Agency for Cultural Affairs. I am going to mention specifically the responsibility of the Minister’s Secretariat since it is the heart of this ministry. As being the MEXT’s helmsman, the Minister’s Secretariat has comprehensive responsibilities for coordinating MEXT’s overall policies. In addition to general management functions such as personnel, general affairs and accounting, it performs overall administration tasks such as policy evaluation, information disclosure, public relations, information processing, administering international relations, and international assistance cooperation.
II. Education in Japan
According to Article 26 of the Constitution of Japan, all citizens have the right to receive education and all parents are obligated to send their children to school to receive compulsory education which is totally free. In responding to the need for education by all citizens, the national government has the roles to organize fundamental education system, create nationwide standards, and provide financial support for arranging the favorable condition for education. For example, the national government can give subsidies for the construction of school facilities in prefectures and municipalities and also make free distribution of textbooks. For the prefectural government, its major roles are the establishment and administration of prefectural high schools, and assigning school teachers and staff. At the level of municipal governments, it oversees and operates public schools. According to MEXT survey, the prefectural and the municipal governments were responsible for 80% of a total of 9881.5 billion yen while the national government was borne for only 20% of total proportion of the burden for compulsory education expenses in FY2006. So, most responsibilities for national education rest on local government level which directly provides educational service to local Japanese citizens.
In higher education sector, Japan has already entered the stage of universal access to higher education as the total percentage of 18-year-old population enrolling in university exceeds 70%. The enrollment rate for universities and junior colleges has sharply increased from 36% to 56%, indicating the need to increase the number of universities or expand the existing ones to accommodate students. The total capacity of universities to accommodate students has risen from around 60% to more than 90%. In order to expand the independence and autonomy of each university, national universities were corporatized on 1 April 2004. The objective of corporatization is to enable national universities to improve the quality of their education and research, build appealing national universities which are rich in individuality, and play a greater role in meeting the expectations of the people and society in a more competitive environment.
Japan is also promoting diplomatic relations with all countries around the world through international student exchange programs. The number of international students studying in Japan has been increasing since 1983. Interestingly, in 2008, the number of international students soared up to 123,829 some of which received scholarships from the Government of Japan. In exchange, 80,023 Japanese students were sent to study abroad, especially in United States, in 2008. In order to make Japan an open-minded society, the framework of the “300,000 International Students Plan” has been adopted in July 2008 by MEXT and other ministries, and agencies concerned in order to accept this large number of international students by 2020. This plan includes joint measures by MEXT and other relevant institutions to facilitate the arrival of international students to study in Japan and also provide more comprehensive follow-up mechanisms after graduation.
In conclusion, education in Japan has been improved and modernized since the Meiji period. Today’s modern Japan has been contributed by enormous effort and investment in human resource development, the promotion of science and technology, and research and development. Recently, educational reform is still the major task of MEXT and the new Administration led by DPJ. Therefore, the national government should give more power and autonomy for the prefectural and municipal government in providing educational service to Japanese population. It is necessary for MEXT to support the efforts toward various reforms by the universities.