LDP eyes adding clause to Constitution to ensure equal education

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party is mulling pushing to add a statement to the Constitution to ensure that financial factors do not deprive Japanese citizens of the opportunity to get an education, party sources said Sunday.

In May, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe unveiled a plan to amend the postwar Constitution for the first time ever. More specifically, he proposed discussing making universities and other institutions offering higher education free, and amending the war-renouncing article of the supreme law.

The ruling party’s constitutional reform panel is now seeking to add a statement to Article 26 of the Constitution to ensure an equal opportunity to education, the sources said. An idea has also been floated to add a clause to oblige the state to improve education.

The Article 26 says “all people shall have the right to receive an equal education corresponding to their ability.” It also states that compulsory education at elementary to junior high schools be provided free.

Despite Abe’s call for debate to make higher education free, the LDP panel does not plan to recommend doing so because of budgetary constraints, the sources said.

According to the education ministry, more than 3 trillion yen ($27 billion) is required to make public and private universities tuition free.

Abe, the LDP leader, made the proposal in a video message to a gathering marking the 70th anniversary of the charter’s coming into force.

The Komeito party, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, is also reluctant to expand the scope of free education.

“There are various opinions over the matter given budgetary constraints,” a senior official of the LDP committee said.

The group will instead consider enacting a law aimed at eventually making advanced education free, the official added.

The committee will accelerate its efforts to compile a draft clause as the prime minister wants to present it to the constitutional commissions of the upper and lower houses during an extraordinary Diet session this fall.

The current Constitution has never been revised since it went into effect in 1947, nor has a bid been made to initiate a formal amendment process, partly because of the high hurdle in proposing an amendment in parliament before it can be put to a referendum.