Photo/IllutrationEducation Minister Koichi Hagiuda responds to questions from lawmakers at the Lower House Budget Committee on Oct. 11. (Takeshi Iwashita)

A newspaper by Hokkaido Obihiro Hakuyo High School students, which won a prize in this year's national contest for high school papers, did a story in July last year on the planned fiscal 2020 introduction of a new university entrance test system.

The system will allow students to take English tests provided by private-sector testing organizations.

The paper ran comments by students such as, "The new system worries me" and "This spells a bigger financial burden."

In fact, many other high school students around the nation are just as troubled by the new system.

Students have multiple concerns over the system. The tests will differ according to the university and faculty to which the candidate applies.

Prices will also vary from test to test, and can be as high as upward of 25,000 yen ($229.60).

Test sites will be concentrated in big cities, and out-of-towners will have to bear substantial costs for transportation and accommodations just to take the tests.

The more tests one takes from early in the test season, the better chance one has of raising their test scores.

In short, it is for these reasons that this system is believed likely to create financial and regional disadvantages for less privileged applicants.

Not surprisingly, a nationwide association of 5,200 high school principals has filed an appeal with the education ministry, demanding that the introduction of this system be postponed.

"Students are growing increasingly worried," states the appeal. It also notes, "School principals are having a hard time trying to explain the system to their students."

Amid this controversy, Education Minister Koichi Hagiuda put his foot in his mouth big time.

Responding to criticisms that the system effectively condones socio-economic disparities, Hagiuda blurted out, "I hope the applicants will do their best under their given circumstances."

He apologized later, and was forced into retracting his statement on Oct. 29.

I reviewed video of the occasion on which he made the gaffe.

His arms crossed, he pontificated, "I believe it is important (for young people) to experience the pressure of leaving their hometown once or twice of their own volition to take the tests."

The "moral" he apparently wanted to "teach" was ludicrously off base. Obviously, Hagiuda is simply incapable of relating to the real worries of students and teachers around the nation.

Last month, a second-year senior high school student made a protest speech in front of the education ministry building in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki district.

Clutching a microphone, the teenager declared, "I do not want students, who are now in the first year of senior high school or the second or third year of junior high school, to blame me and my peers for not objecting to this system before its first year of enforcement."

Hagiuda had just become education minister when this speech was made. Had he listened to it, he probably would not have made as inexcusable a misstatement as he did.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 30

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Vox Populi, Vox Dei is a popular daily column that takes up a wide range of topics, including culture, arts and social trends and developments. Written by veteran Asahi Shimbun writers, the column provides useful perspectives on and insights into contemporary Japan and its culture.