2009 Volume 76 Issue 4 Pages 400-411
This paper considers post-1990s educational reform in Japan from the perspective of the confrontation between various powers. Since the rise to prominence of neo-liberalist groups in the 1980s, the major confrontation over such educational reform has pitted conservatives defending the arrangement based on the so-called "1955 system" against conservatives pushing for neoliberal reforms. In this paper, we divide the period between 1990 and August 2009 into four phases based on two perspectives: who in government set the agenda for educational reform (the origin of reform plans), and whether or not the Ministry of Education (MET), and later the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT) had control over determining the course of policy-making. (1) 1990s, first half: The Ministry of Education decides on a reform agenda and moves ahead with relatively mild deregulation. (2) 1990s, second half: An advisory panel cutting across government offices and ministries initiates a proposal, and the Ministry of Education drafts a concrete policy proposal. (3) 2001-2006: The Cabinet Office establishes a radical reform agenda and the Ministry of Education becomes a "force of opposition." (4) 2006-2009: The leadership role of the Cabinet Office weakens, and the Ministry of Education proceeds with previously established policy. The change in political administration brought on by the August 2009 general elections has the potential to introduce a significant shift in two different ways. Firstly, there is the possibility that education policy-making may undergo a dramatic transformation as a result of yet another shift in Cabinet Office leadership. Secondly, the path of "big government" based on fiscal stimulus could trigger a shift in the course of reform. Considering these two possibilities, future research must make note of the following requirements: (1) to consider the desirability of policy-making procedures separately from the desirability of the actual contents of political measures; and (2) to consider elements seeking individual interests separately from those attempting to secure universal interests.