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Updated:February 1, 2018

English

Governor's Column (February 2018)

Early Childhood Education

Providing free access to early childhood education (ECE) has become a popular policy topic these days, but I've noticed the discussions regarding it always center on ECE's costs rather than bringing other factors into consideration. I believe any policy discussion should be brought back to the basic questions of "for whom should we provide what support and why?" ECE is no exception.

In recent years, the importance of ECE has been widely recognized primarily due to American research into the topic. That research indicates that children not only need academic knowledge, but also non-cognitive skills such as perseverance and maintaining self-esteem in order to thrive in society. It is crucial that children have educational opportunities to learn these skills before formal schooling begins.

Due to widening socioeconomic gaps and a reduced sense of community in many areas, the ability of households and local areas to provide educational opportunities has been on the decline. At the same time, it is highly likely that our society will be transformed in the near future by the wide availability of robots and AI, meaning we will need to enrich the overall purpose and quality of our educational system, particularly ECE, more than ever before. To provide this qualitative enrichment, it is imperative that we provide programs to help children develop good qualities, including perseverance, affection for others, acknowledging and accepting differences in others, and respect for rules.

I believe that ensuring all children have a guaranteed opportunity to receive such high-quality ECE should be the true purpose of any related policy. Providing this education free is but one method of achieving this goal, not the goal itself. In other words, the real goal of ECE policy is to provide a standard level of ECE to every child across the country, just as we currently do for the compulsory education years of elementary and junior high school. With ECE in particular, it is of great importance that both the human resources and facilities provided can deliver thorough, meticulous care for each and every child, as very young children often experience great differences in development and environment before formal schooling. Unfortunately, we are currently unable to provide even basic care, let alone detailed care, for every child living in Japan: about 26,000 children are currently on the waiting list for preschools nationwide. We also do not have enough early childhood educators to serve these children even if we did build more ECE facilities. We must first solve these root problems and enrich both the quality and quantity of ECE before we will be able to realistically provide free ECE for all children.

Kiyoshi Ueda
Kiyoshi Ueda