Academic at the helm

4th September 1998 at 01:00

Japanese schools will start their new term under the leadership of a distinguished, if untested, minister for education.

Appointed when the new cabinet was formed during the summer break, Akito Arima, 67, is a leading academic with honorary professorships and doctorates from a host of universities around the world including Birmingham and Glasgow.

He is, however, entirely new to government and seen as a force for change. In his previous position as chair of the Central Education Council, he called for fast tracking for bright pupils.

For the past five years Mr Arima has been scientific counsellor at the ministry of education, science, sports and culture, Professor Emeritus of the University of Tokyo and President of the Institute of Physical and Chemical Research.

Noted for his work in nuclear physics he is among the more reformist figures in the Japanese cabinet and says he has been lobbying the education ministry for changes to policy for years.

Critics will be watching closely to see how effective he will be in promoting reform in a ministry famous for its hostility to change. His popular elevation might go some way towards satisfying the calls from Japan's industrial leaders for a radical overhaul of the education system to produce more creative, individualistic workers.

Mr Arima said: "Post-war Japanese education is good in the sense that it has maintained equality and fairness.

"For us to be successful in the 21st century, we need to break from the principles of fairness and equality to achieve real educational reform. " He is expected to spearhead the setting up of more specialised and comprehensive schools which have been promised freedom from centralised control.

He is also expected to speed along reform of the university entrance-exam system, which many say places unbearable pressure on students.

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