Making kindergarten education free for 5-year old children has been agreed by the government on Thursday. It was decided, together with the ruling party officials, that the program will be executed on the 2014 fiscal year. The proposal will only cover a family’s third or subsequent child given that the eldest sibling is still on his third or lower grade in primary school. The current condition is due to limited budgets. However, the government claims that waiving fees for all children from 3 to 5 years old is the ultimate goal. Also, no income requirement will be needed for the new subsidy program.
Waiving kindergarten fees, though with a condition, will be the government’s initial step for its education plans. It will be expanded and will cover all 5-year old schoolchildren, which is expected to cost about 260 billion yen a year. “We need to show people the beginning of the fee waiver program in fiscal 2014 under the Abe Cabinet,” said the Education Minister Hakubun Shimomura during the meeting of government and ruling party officials.
As of now, all day care and school fees for the third or subsequent children are shouldered by the government. Half of the second child’s school fees may also be covered but only if three or more children from the same family are attending a day care all at the same time. Household income requirement has also not been imposed. As for those who go to kindergarten, the same is being observed but the subsidy given varies on household income and the school children’s age.
The government plans to waive kindergarten fees for all children from families on welfare in 2014, the year the program begins. Officials also said that the new program intends to fill the gap of the nursery and kindergarten support. Under the new program, about 300,000 out of 1.6 million kindergartens will have reduced education fees, which may also be removed. National and local government expect in the first year to shoulder 30 billion yen. According to the Education Ministry, an estimated cost of 780 billion yen per year will be required.
The new program will surely require a big cut on the national budget, but the cost seems to be of secondary concern by the ruling parties. The Liberal Democratic Party, where Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is the president, together with New Komeito pledged free education during their campaigns for the December House of Representatives elections. The new program may also help encourage the younger generation to start a family and bear children earlier than the current trend. This can serve as an assurance that the government is keeping its platform promise and is providing assistance to parents, including those who plan to become parents, when it comes to a child’s education.