[Outlook]Education for a change

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[Outlook]Education for a change

There is a 70 percent chance that a major earthquake will hit Tokyo within 30 years. But few worry that an earthquake will shatter Japan, as happens in the disaster movie “Japan Sinks.”
The scenario for a real “Japan Sinks” is being written with another plot -- the population. In Japan, the population started to decrease two years ago, due to its low birth rate.
Japan’s population is currently 130 million but, if this situation persists, it will fall to 110 million in 2030 and 95 million in 2050.
Meanwhile, senior citizens already represent 20 percent of the population. In 2030, the figure will surpass 30 percent and it will reach 40 percent in 2050. With a population of that size and composition, a society will inevitably decline, no matter how advanced its science and technology may be. Japanese dailies are full of praise for the “resurrection” of the country’s economy, but many Japanese worry whether their “miracle” can continue.
As a symptom of these issues, childhood education was the topic of a meeting on Japan’s social policy last Sunday at Tokyo University.
Since the 1990s, the Japanese have been keenly interested in how they raise and educate children. They realized that a low birthrate was a serious problem. They decided that education should not be left solely to the schools but that parents must take an active part in their children’s schooling in order for them to mature into disciplined adults. Parents also believed that it would be helpful for the future of their children if they attend a good university, because good jobs are harder to get as a consequence of globalization.
Ironically, at this academic seminar, we found out that this keen interest in the education of children has caused its own crisis.
Expensive fees for private tutoring were the key problem. Parents are eager to enhance their children’s education so they send them to a variety of private lessons in music, art, sports, English and mathematics. This has increased the average amount of money spent on raising children, while making children feel poorer than they actually are.
Most Japanese parents want to have between two and three children. But two-thirds can’t have that many because “it costs so much” to raise a child.
In a survey, people from different countries were asked if they think it is easy to give birth and raise children in their own countries.
In Sweden, nearly 100 percent answered yes. In the United States, 80 percent said yes, even though the social security system there has its own problems. But in Japan, less than 50 percent answered yes. Raising children is one of the biggest joys in life. In this respect, the Japanese are not happy.
How about Korea? Only 20 percent of Koreans think it is easy to give birth and bring up children. Korean families want to have two children, fewer than the number of children that Japanese parents believe to be ideal. Korea’s birthrate is twenty percent lower than Japan’s. One reason is that it costs a lot to bring up children and to pay for private lessons, even more so than in Japan. Korea’s current population is 47 million. If this birthrate persists, it will decrease to 42 million in 2050. In 2030, one out of four Koreans will be a senior citizen. The population crisis that could overwhelm Japan is developing here at an even faster pace.
The birthrate falls as an increasing number of people receive higher education, which is the result of Korea’s excessive love for their children. The Japanese put a limit on how much they pay for their children’s education, in preparation for retirement. But in Korea, some parents use their retirement money to fund children who are studying abroad. The dynamism of Korea’s economy has depended on well-educated human resources. That has been maintained by the blind love that Korean parents have for their children, something that even Japanese people can’t understand.
But now, Japan’s love for children has led to excessive spending on private lessons and a low birthrate.
Are there solutions? At the academic conference, the consensus was that public education must be enhanced. Kindergarten education for children aged 3 to 5 was cited as especially important. During this period, babies develop more than at any other phase in life.
By offering quality public education and care for raising and educating babies, the polarization issue will be resolved and families will have fewer burdens in giving birth and raising children. This suggestion was made as a reflection upon what was wrong with existing policies.
The interest ― or obsession ― of Koreans is college and private education.
Now is the time to think seriously about education for babies and publicly funded education.

*The writer is a professor of economics at Saitama University, Japan. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Woo Jong-won
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