The Japanese government enforced the “Tuition Waiver and Tuition Support Fund Program for High School Education” in 2010, this program which covered not only students of Japanese public and private schools, but also students of foreign schools. However, the government permanently excluded only Korean school students from the program in 2013 on the grounds of political and diplomatic relationship between Japan and DPRK. Despite human rights bodies in the UN system concluding that the Japanese government’s policy was “discrimination” and recommending it apply the program to Korean school students, the government has ignored those recommendations. In response to this “discrimination,” two Korean schools and 249 Korean students filed lawsuits with the court in five districts in Japan.
Since 2010, the Japanese government has expanded compulsory education to high school level with the introduction of the “Tuition Waiver and Tuition Support Fund Program for High School Education” (hereafter, “Tuition Waiver Program”). This program exempted tuition fees for students of Japanese public high school and provided equivalent funds for students of private high schools, including technical schools and foreign schools, which are accredited as “miscellaneous schools”.
Regarding, foreign schools, subject to this program they were divided into three categories- (i) a high school with a curriculum equivalent to the one in its native country, (ii) an international school certified by the international educational evaluation institution, (iii) a school certified by the Minister of Education because it has a curriculum equivalent to high school level. 14 national schools including Chinese and Brazilian fall the first category; and 17 international schools in the second category were nominated to receive funding uner the Tuition Waiver Program when the Program was enforced in 2010.
Korean schools are ethnic schools founded by Zainichi Koreans in Japan after Japan’s surrender (Korea’s liberation) in 1945. The aim of the schools was to preserve their ethnic language, culture and history that had been deprived due by Japan’s assimilation policy. The educational system of Korean schools is 6-3-3, same as that of Japanese schools. Although, the government of Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has been sending educational subsidies to Korean schools, Korean schools in Japan have a different system from schools in DPRK. It is assumed that this is why Korean schools were only categorized as type (iii) instead of (i) above by the Ministry of Education when the Program started, to be the subject of the Tuition Waiver Program.
However, Korean schools still have not been designated as recipients of the Tuition Waiver Program. The news that the then Minister in charge of the abduction issue requested that the Ministry of Education exclude Korean schools from the Program created controversy in Japan in February 2010. As a result, the Japanese government did not allocate funds under the Program to Korean schools when the Program was enforced in April and it set up the Review Conference to discuss how it would resolve why the school should be considered as type (iii). Accordingly, it announced the rule and procedures of type (iii) in November 2010. In accordance with the rule and procedures for the Program all 10 Korean high schools applied appropriately in accordance with the rule and procedures. However the then Prime Minister Naoto Kan ordered that the Ministry of Education stop the examination to apply the Program to Korean schools, in response to the Yeonpyongdo Incident which brought intense military tension between DPRK and Republic of Korea. In other words, turned this educational issue into a political and diplomatic one. Although, the Prime Minister ordered that the Ministry restart the examination for Korean schools right before he resigned his post in August 2012, the next Yoshihiko Noda Cabinet prolonged the result of the examination and resigned in December same year. This resulted in a change of government from the Democratic Party to Liberal Democratic Party and the inauguration of the Cabinet of the current Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe.
Under Abe, his cabinet first revised the ordinance of the Ministry of Education concerning the Tuition Waiver Program, deleting the category (iii) from the Program in February 2013. This revision permanently excluded the Korean schools from the Program. The Minister of Education, Hakubun Shimomura, declared that “there has been no progress in the abduction issue” as one of the reasons for the revision of the ordinance. Again, this statement revealed that the political and diplomatic relations between Japan and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea were grounds for the exclusion of Korean schools.
The act of the Japanese government was reported by several NGOs in Japan to some United Nations human rights bodies such as the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD). At a hearing in Geneva when these bodies examined the national report of the Japanese government , some members of the Committees asked the Japanese government representatives why the Korean school students at been excluded. The government justified their stance by saying that there was no progress in the abduction issue and Korean schools are affiliated with the ethnic organization in Japan connected to DPRK. As a result of the examination, those bodies concluded that the act of the Japanese government was “discrimination” (http://k-jinken.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/%E2%98%85CO-of-UN-on-Korean-Schools-CCPR1998-CERD2014-2.pdf) and recommended the government apply the Program to Korean school students appropriately, meaning there was no excuse for the exclusion of Korean school students. （⇒Q9）
As of March 2017, more than 10,000 Korean high school students in total have been excluded from the Program and the total damage of tuition support funds is estimated over 1.5 billion yen. In response to this discrimination, two Korean schools and 249 Korean students filed lawsuits with the court in five districts including Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima, Aichi and Fukuoka.
However, Japanese court system continues to rule against Korean school students by claiming that Japanese government is justly exercising its discretionary power to exclude the students from the “Tuition Waiver Program.” As for the case filed in Tokyo, the District Court (September 13, 2017), the High Court (October 30, 2019) and the Supreme Court (August 27, 2019) all ruled against the Korean schools. In Osaka, the district court ruled in favor of the Korean school by claiming that Japanese government’s measures are illegal and it must apply the “Tuition Waiver Program” to the Korean schools (July 28, 2017). However, following the verdict on the Tokyo case, the ruling was overturned in the High Court (September 27, 2018) and maintained in the Supreme Court (August 27, 2019). For the cases filed in Hiroshima, Aichi and Fukuoka prefectures, Korean school students have all lost in respective District Court, and the cases are ongoing as of September 2019.