Challenges in Regulating Juku

If policy-makers in Japan or elsewhere were to decide to regulate supplementary education, they would face a number of hurdles and challenges.

The first would be to define supplementary education in such a way that the “right” kind of businesses/organizations would actually be captured by this definition. I have struggled together with colleagues to come up with definitions of supplementary education as this sector and the state-recognized sector is shifting, but this would be even harder to do in a legislative context, I imagine.

A further hurdle would be enforcement. Would this be somehow handed over to local or national education authorities? Or, would this be treated as a quasi-business license?

One avenue that is obviously attractive to make regulation possible is to offer public funding for supplementary education activities and to make this funding contingent on criteria that would characterize supplementary education institutions. In some ways, this is the route that the U.S. No-Child-Left-Behind funding for tutoring to students who are enrolled in consistently “failing” schools has taken. In that case it appears to be local or state authorities who are in charge of “certifying” particular businesses or individuals as tutors. There don’t seem to be any unified criteria that are being applied in this case.

In the Japanese context, there do not seem to be formal criteria in the contracts that some Boards of Education (most noticeably in the 23 wards of metropolitan Tokyo) are entering into with juku to provide services within schools (konai juku). Such contracts could obviously include criteria like teacher certification (highly unlikely in the current Japanese context). Most likely they do include specification of student-teacher ratios, facilities to be used, etc.

The final option and one that supplementary education businesses in the more established sectors of this kind will likely push, is self-regulation, the seemingly instinctive response of all North American business groups to any hint at regulation, though somewhat less common elsewhere in the world.

Apparently, there were some discussions about versions of self-regulation between representatives of the largest education conglomerates and the Ministry of Education some years ago. These seem to have focused on some kind of teacher certification. I was told about such discussions by juku operators, but have been unable to follow up on whether these were formally reported or acknowledged.

Clearly, when dealing with a juku industry as sizeable as the Japanese one, the emergence of an industrial lobby will be one of the main obstacles to any attempts by governments (national or local) to regulate or even to structure supplementary education activities.

In the case of teacher certification, this would seem to put education conglomerates at a distinct advantage as they are already offering more formal forms of employment compared to the SME owner-operated sector. SME juku rely primarily on casual labour, often provided by former students. Requiring such casual labour to be certified in any way would likely incur prohibitive costs.

As I have argued in the context of questions regarding the efficacy of juku instruction, a requirement of teacher certification of some kind would likely lead to tutoring for such certification in its own right. Meta-tutoring anyone?

For further reading on teachers in private sector education, see:

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