Prime Minister Abe Shinzo’s term is due to end in about a year’s time and he has decided to dissolve the lower house and call for a snap election in light of the party’s recent rebound in support following sharp decline after a series of scandals involving himself and members of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
Japan is a nation of debt with the government owing over 1,000 trillion yen, among which, the majority is owed to the nation’s banks, insurance companies, pension funds, etc through government bonds. The scheduled increase in consumption tax from 8 to 10% in 2019 is expected to bring an additional 5 trillion yen in additional revenue and was earmarked to help pay off those debts. However, at a recent news conference, Abe announced that part of the money received from increased consumption tax will be used to provide free education to children from kindergarten through college. This would likely gain the party much needed votes though I’m not certain how the whole plan would fall into place. Nevertheless, free education is very attractive to citizens everywhere and if the plan is well thought out instead of it being just an election tactic to gain votes, Japan could finally succeed at achieving their 2% inflation target as consumers from families with children would be very willing to spend knowing that education is taken care of. Gradually, that could also slow the declining population when couples are more willing to give birth with education assured, although it’s hard to think a replacement rate of 2.1 can be achieved any time soon.
With the shrinking population, it only benefits the nation to have a policy that encourages birth as well as spending so as to be able to maintain a decent amount of consumption tax revenue and a minimally non-declining economy. But since I’m not familiar with economies and policies, it’s hard to see how a 2% increase in consumption tax alone can meet education needs of the nation when Scandinavian nations with only 4% Japan’s population require some 45% income tax and double Japan’s consumption tax to cover education and health.
Regardless, Japan’s education system itself is problematic from various aspects. One of which is the implementation of compulsory education. Singapore’s compulsory education states that children above the age of 6 years and who has not yet attained the age of 15 years must attend regularly as a pupil at a national primary school or a designated school/be home-schooled (where exemption is granted). Even so, not passing examinations or attendance numbers would mean the student has to redo the entire year.
In Japan, compulsory education covers primary and secondary education. However, the idea of “compulsory education” means these children have the right to graduate from the school. In other words, one can score 0 in all tests and examinations, or in extreme cases (which is not rare), not attend a single day of school and yet still graduate and receive the graduation certificate together with their cohort not having learned a single thing in 15 years of their life. In this sense, free education through college could worsen the situation as students no longer see the imperative to work hard.
In any case, Abe’s government will have to take extra measures to ensure that the free education does not backfire and bring about bigger societal problems, especially with the current children and youths, who are the ones to lead the nation in the future.