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Japan Reportedly Urges U.S. To Improve Its Schools

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In a rare critique of an allied nation, Japanese officials are telling the Bush Administration that one way to improve American industrial competitiveness is to improve schools.

The criticism, first reported Nov. 19 in The New York Times, came in negotiations this fall on the chronic trade imbalance between the two nations. It focuses mostly on economic issues, such as the need to close the federal budget deficit.

The critique was offered as a reply to the continuing insistence by the Administration that Japan open up its economy to foreign imports.

"If the United States wants Japan to change its system," an anonymous Japanese official was quoted as saying, "the United States must be more ready to correct its own shortcomings."

A U.S. government official close to the talks said last week that the Japanese had cited such deficiencies as inadequate teaching of mathematics, science, and foreign languages in American high schools and colleges. They called on American businesses to improve their education and "practical training" programs for workers because, they said, efforts in that area so far have failed.

The official said the Japanese also requested an outline of actions being contemplated as a result of President Bush's recent education summit--a request that indicates skepticism that the President will back up his verbal commitment to education with additional funding.

'Deeper Problem' for U.S.

Spokesmen for both the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which is engaged in the talks with Japan, and the Embassy of Japan said last week that they could not comment on any details of the negotiations.

Reaction to the criticism so far has been limited.

"There is no question that we need to do a better job in teaching mathematics, science, and foreign languages," said Sol Hurwitz, senior vice president of the Committee on Economic Development, a business group that has been closely involved in education issues.

"But I think there's a deeper problem facing American public schools which the Japanese, fortunately, do not have to face," he said, "and this is the problem of the educationally disadvantaged."

"My impression," added Mr. Hurwitz, a former visitor to Japan, "is that the best students graduating from American high schools can compete favorably with the best students graduating from Japanese high schools."--dv

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