The Osaka District Court on July 28 struck down the government’s decision to bar a Korean school from its program to eliminate tuition for high school students.
The district court’s ruling, which ordered the government to make Osaka Korean High School eligible for the program, is totally in line with the initiative’s original goal of giving all students in Japan equal educational opportunities.
The government should take the court’s decision seriously and swiftly provide the financial aid to the school required for the program.
The court fully aligned its decision with the purpose of the law on the tuition-free high school education program.
Under the initiative, the government covers the costs of high school education to ensure equal educational opportunities so that no student has to give up receiving an education due to economic reasons.
The program was introduced in 2010 by the government led by the then Democratic Party of Japan, but its application to Korean schools was suspended because of the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
After the second administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was inaugurated in 2012, then education minister Hakubun Shimomura decided in February 2013 to make Korean schools ineligible for the program, saying public support could not be gained because of North Korea’s past abductions of Japanese citizens and other reasons concerning the country.
The Osaka District Court adjudged the government’s policy as illegal and invalid, arguing it is based on diplomatic and political considerations unrelated to the goal of securing equal educational opportunities and deviates from the spirit of the law.
The ruling can be described as a stern warning about linking a question concerning the education system to debate on political and diplomatic challenges and blurring the border between these different policy areas.
In defending its policy, the government stressed that the school has ties with North Korea and the pro-Pyongyang General Association of Korean Residents in Japan (Chongryon) and is subject to “unjust control” by the association. There are concerns, the government said, that the school may not be operated appropriately.
The ruling acknowledged that there are elements in education at the Korean high school that admire North Korea, and that Chongryon is involved in the operation of the school to a certain degree.
But the district court also pointed out that the school uses teaching aids to prevent its education from becoming dogmatic and to teach diverse viewpoints. The court ruled that there is no compelling case for the claim that the school lacks autonomy with regard to its education.
The government claimed there are concerns that the public financial aid could be used for purposes other than subsidizing tuition fees. But the court didn’t accept the claim, saying there are no facts to support it.
These claims made by the government without sufficient efforts to comprehend the reality have helped spread prejudice against Korean schools. The government should do serious soul-searching on this fact.
In a ruling that stands in sharp contrast with the Osaka court decision, the Hiroshima District Court July 19 rejected the Hiroshima Korean School’s demand for the reversal of the government’s policy decision. The Hiroshima court declared the government’s policy legal, saying the school has close relations with Chongryon.
While the Hiroshima court was only too willing to uphold the government’s claims, the Osaka District Court allowed the school’s graduates and former teachers to testify and examined the results of a survey of the parents of students submitted by the school as evidence.
In other words, the Osaka court reached its decision through more careful efforts to evaluate the reality of education at the Korean high school.
Most of the students at Korean schools in Japan are fourth-generation Korean residents who have been born and raised in this country.
They are learning in pursuit of a future in Japan while treasuring their ethnic language and culture.
The question this issue poses to Japanese society is whether it really values diverse backgrounds among its members as well as autonomy in education.