VOX POPULI, VOX DEI／天声人語
■Income gap equals gap in educational opportunities：
When I interviewed a Finnish entrepreneur who had quit his job at a big company to start his own business, I asked him a really stupid question.
As he told me that he had 10 children, I asked, “Aren’t you worried about how you will pay for their educational expenses if your business fails?” He just looked puzzled.
People in Finland don’t have to pay any money for education up to the university level. University students even receive state subsidies to finance their living expenses.
All expectant mothers in Finland are given by the government what is called the “maternity package,” a box containing all kinds of items necessary for the baby, including bodysuits and a snowsuit.
The notion that children should be taken care of by society as a whole is firmly established in the country.
What reminded me of Finland’s generous public support to children and their education was an estimate quoted in a news story that annual tuition for national universities could rise to 930,000 yen ($7,700) in 16 years.
In the early 1980s, the figure was less than 200,000 yen. But that was a long time ago.
Even when the high tax burdens borne by Finnish people are considered, the difference between Finland and Japan in the government’s financial aid for the well-being of the young is still staggering.
It has long been pointed out that income disparities are creating a serious opportunity gap in education in Japan.
While 62 percent of high school students whose parents have an annual income of more than 10 million yen go on to attend a university, only 31 percent of their counterparts of families with an annual income of 4 million yen or less do so, according to one survey.
A child’s academic achievement seems to be affected significantly also by whether the parents can afford to pay the tuition for private junior high schools and “juku” preparatory schools.
“There are many (Japanese) children who can make a greater contribution to society if only they are given opportunities to receive higher education,” says Yumiko Watanabe, head of Kids’ Door, a nonprofit organization. “Isn’t that a big waste of human resources?”
That’s why Watanabe’s organization provides learning support to help students pass entrance exams for high schools and universities. University students and working adults teach them as volunteers.
The Japanese government should start providing a “package” for children containing educational opportunities, support for parents in financial trouble and free scholarships.
The program would, of course, cost a lot. But this kind of giveaway of taxpayer money is not bad.
--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 13
英文記事は、前日までの朝日新聞記事をベースに編集した海外読者向けの「Asia & Japan Watch（AJW）」の記事です。完全な対訳とは限りません。