The government is set to adopt policy measures to make higher education more accessible to children of low-income families in an effort to smash the vicious cycle of poverty that transfers from one generation to the next.

Those deprived of higher education tend to fall into the poverty trap due to difficulties in securing stable, well-paid jobs. That, in turn, generally means that their offspring become mired in poverty as there is not enough money to spend on higher education.

The government’s basic economic and fiscal policy framework for 2018, to be endorsed shortly, will include a set of proposals to lessen the financial burden of education at universities, junior colleges and specialized training colleges for needy households.

This is an important and meaningful initiative to prevent the perpetuation of poverty. But the government should also take steps to support young people who opt to work instead of pursuing higher education.

In Japan, it is more likely than in other industrial nations that children end up with educational levels similar to those of their parents, according to Toru Kikkawa, a professor at Osaka University specializing in issues related to social stratification and perception.

A survey carried out three years ago by a team of researchers led by Kikkawa found that half of young people with a university or junior college diploma had a father who was a university graduate. In contrast, 80 percent of young people without a university degree had a father who had not graduated from college.

The same survey also found that 80 percent of university-educated parents wanted their children to receive university or higher-level education, while less than 60 percent of non-college-educated parents had the same expectation.

The survey’s findings indicate how the educational background of families affects the educational level of children.

The proposed financial support for higher education of children from low-income families is one way to help rectify the education gap.

But the measure will not bring benefits to young people who start working upon graduation from junior or senior high school.

The government needs to pay serious attention to this side of things by improving labor conditions for young workers, for example, by raising the minimum wage.

Since the ratio of non-college-educated workers is higher in rural areas than in cities, such efforts would also help reduce yawning economic and other disparities that exist.

Many young people without college degrees have no vocational qualifications and tend to have fewer opportunities to relearn and pursue a new career path.

It is obviously important to make it easier for such young people to develop professional skills. But Kikkawa says major companies and local governments should be required to establish a quota for employment of young working high-school graduates instead of focusing their recruitment efforts on new university graduates.

The government should consider as many options as possible to address the problem, and even incorporate such radical proposals.

What is worrisome is that people in this country seem to be increasingly willing to accept or tolerate the reality of an education gap.

This was borne out by a recent survey of parents of children attending public elementary or junior high schools that was jointly conducted by The Asahi Shimbun and Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute. It found that more than 60 percent of the respondents felt it was “natural” or “inevitable” that children from affluent families tended to receive a better education.

The ratio was in the 40-percent range in the 2000s, but has risen sharply since the beginning of the 2010s.

Moreover, these perceptions are more widespread among people with a university degree. The findings should be cause for alarm about a growing perception gap concerning education among Japanese due to the stratification of society.

This nation is in danger of becoming a society where there are wide gaps in opportunities and sharp differences in views and values between members with different educational and income levels.

The government needs to figure out effective policy measures to prevent Japan from becoming such a divided society.

--The Asahi Shimbun, June 14