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New Education Law Causes Alarm for Some Japanese

Critics of the Japanese government say its attempt to force nationalism on children could become a major political issue this year. Last month, the government revised its Basic Education Law for the first time since it was implemented after World War II, in an attempt to instill greater patriotism in students. Yuriko Nagano reports from Tokyo.

Since the Japanese government implemented the revised Basic Education Law last month, critics have been voicing deep concern.

Tokyo University Education Professor Katsuko Sato says the patriotism clause in the revised law is troubling. She says it forces nationalism on school children, who will be required to sing the national anthem and pledge to the Japanese flag at ceremonies.

Sato says Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's approval rating is sliding. So he needed a major win on something before the coming elections for the upper house of the parliament, so he got this law passed. Sato says there should have been more discussion about the revisions first, but the conversation between the government and education experts was cut short.

Academics and many teachers such as Sato say they are not convinced a change was necessary.

Japan's classrooms are struggling with problems including misbehaving children, bullying in classrooms and students who have no concern for others.

However, politicians in the ruling coalition argued that by taking the emphasis off individualism, which was a major theme in the old Basic Education Law, schools now can foster unselfish children, which could solve many problems.

The New Japan Women's Association is among several groups that oppose the new education law. Mayako Okada, executive central committee member, says she hopes to stop schools from forcing children to sing the national anthem.

Okada says children's patriotism will be rated in their report cards based on their attitudes in class. She says the government will be imposing patriotism.

A key point for critics is that the revision conflicts with Japan's Constitution. They consider the new law a first step toward meeting the ruling party's ultimate goal of changing the constitution, particularly Article Nine, which states that Japan will strive to be a peace-loving country.

Critics say the education law was revised first because it will be more difficult to change the constitution.

Other critics fear the change could lead to a revival of the militarism that led Japan into colonial conquest and war in the first half of the 20th century.

Several organizations have said they plan to make the education law a political issue this year and push to have it changed.