Japan is expected to soon see the advent of an unprecedentedly long-lived society.
How should the country prepare for the risk that its conventional education and employment systems will no longer function in that event?
The government has launched a council on the vision for an era of 100-year life spans, tasked with discussing specific measures to bring about “a revolution in human resources development,” a new central feature in government policies.
The panel is chaired by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Experts who sit on the council include professor Lynda Gratton of the London Business School, who has advocated thinking about one’s lifestyle from the standpoint of a possible 100-year life span.
At the inaugural meeting of the panel, Gratton insisted people need to fundamentally reconsider their life plans.
She has said that a single-track life that sequentially passes a three-stage course — education, work and retirement — could shift to a multistage one that could take flexible turns.
The council has decided to discuss such issues as open educational and relearning opportunities and senior employment, as well as social security reforms that pay careful attention to parents raising small children.
Change is difficult
It is no easy task to change deep-rooted social systems.
If any reform efforts are initiated at all, it is essential to really buckle down on that task and not be oblivious to the importance of considering relevant issues from a long-term perspective.
The immediate focus is the concept of making infant education and child care services free of charge. The key task in this respect is how to raise the financial resources necessary for that plan, which would require 1.17 trillion yen annually.
The ruling parties are floating the idea of introducing a “child insurance scheme” under which an extra amount would be added to the sum of public pension premiums collected from subscribers.
This means imposing even greater burdens on working generations. It would also force the people who operate small and midsize companies to assume a larger share of the pension premiums they pay as employers, which would put pressure on their finances. This kind of impact must be carefully considered.
Questions remain over the proposed method for using the mechanism of an insurance system as a means of supporting child-rearing people, given that an insurance scheme is intended to prepare for unforeseen risks.
To begin with, there will be a limit on what can be achieved through the introduction of free-of-charge infant education and day care services, unless comprehensive progress is made in implementing measures to counteract the low birthrate, including measures aimed at ensuring there will be no children on waiting lists for admission to child care centers.
It is vital to calmly analyze the significance of the proposed policies and stand ready to make steady progress in implementing them.
Another issue concerns university education, as the percentage of its burden on family finances in our country is one of the largest among advanced countries.
“It is necessary to facilitate an environment in which highly motivated but underprivileged young people can be devoted to their studies,” the prime minister emphasized to the panel.
The council will discuss improving and expanding the repayment-exempt scholarship plan while also adopting a formula modeled on the one adopted by Australia, known as a “shusse-barai” (paying back a debt when one is successful in life) formula.
This method requires students who have received government subsidies for their educational expenses to repay the received benefits after becoming a working member of society, based on the amount of their individual income.
Reductions in and exemption from repayments will directly affect the burden on state finances.
It is also necessary to pay attention to the fairness of the formula, regarding the treatment of people who work after graduating from high school and those who are covered by the system.
The council must also address such mid- and long-term tasks as improving the quality of lifelong education and hiring personnel in a manner not partial to new graduates.
The panel is expected to produce results potentially conducive to benefiting the next generation, while trying to avoid overlapping with work style reforms and other existing policies.