Law in the Internet Society

Digitizing and Editing Textbooks in Japan (second draft)

-- By MaikoHayakawa - 20 Nov 2020 (first draft), 30 Dec 2020 (second draft)

1. Overview

Textbooks used in junior high and high schools in Japan are often criticized as failing to introduce diverse and latest views. In this essay, after identifying the background of the problems, I propose digitizing textbooks and allowing people to edit them as a way to improve the textbooks. Then, I discuss current regulations related to my suggestion.

2. Problems of textbooks in Japan

There has been an argument that the contents of the textbooks used in the secondary education in Japan are one-sided, rather than introducing various points of views. Especially, there has been a controversial and long argument about the way the school history textbooks state the facts regarding the actions of the Empire of Japan during World War II. In addition, textbooks are criticized as not timely reflecting the latest research.

3. Background of the problems

Japan has the system of text approval based on the School Education Law. In this system, private publishers create textbooks, but they are required to be examined and approved by the Ministry of Education in order to be used as textbooks in schools. The aims of this process include “the maintenance and improvement of nationwide education standards, guaranteeing of equal opportunities for education, and the maintenance of appropriate educational content as well as securing neutrality in education.” These aims are important. However, this system has the possibility to prevent publishers from introducing diverse views, as whether the content is “appropriate” and “neutral” is examined based on the view of the government. In addition, this process takes a considerable amount of time. “Most textbook projects run at least three years from the launch of the writing committee to the actual use of books in classrooms.” Id. This makes it difficult for textbook makers to promptly reflect the latest research in their textbooks.

4. Suggestion

My suggestion to these problems is to digitize textbooks and allow people to edit them, because comments to the textbooks by others allow readers to widen their views and catch up with the latest research. Through my experiences in this semester, I learned that free exchange of comments will improve learning experience. I realized, like software and digital maps, textbooks and other educational materials have the character of functional goods that can be improved through anarchism production. First example is the use of wiki in this class. Exchanging comments freely with the professor and classmates enabled me to deepen my thoughts. Second example is the comments on the textbook. One of my friends who is a former LLM gave me a paper textbook for Corporations class. He also got this textbook from another former LLM. They jotted down a lot of information, including their ideas, quotation from other sources, and the clue to the latest cases and research, between the lines of the textbook. Through adding information, they edited the textbook. This enabled me to meet diverse thoughts and think deeper about the issues introduced in the textbook, as well as catch up with the latest information. However, this editing and sharing process is difficult to be done in the larger community because copying and sharing physical materials takes a lot of time and costs. Digitizing textbooks makes it easier to improve them with zero marginal cost. By digitizing textbooks and letting learners to use wiki to edit them, learners can improve textbooks federally and learn various points of views and the latest studies, which can be the solution for the problems discussed in the paragraph 2.

5. Current regulations related to the suggestion and Creative Commons

5.1. Digitalization

In 2018, Japanese government created a guideline which limits the time length schools can use digital textbooks up to half of entire class hours. However, the government has just announced that it started to consider relaxing the limit and digitizing all textbooks.

5.2. Copyright Law

Japanese copyright law treats a textbook as a work that is subject to copyright. Basically, the author of a work has “the right to preserve the integrity of that work and its title, and is not to be made to suffer any alteration, cut, or other modification.” Japanese Copyright Act 20(1). Editing (adding comments to) textbooks is likely to be considered as alternation or other modification. Under current Japanese copyright law, learners need to ask for each author’s consent, if they want to edit textbooks and share the edited version with others. Since textbooks should be improved federally, current Japanese regulation is not suitable for textbooks.

5.3. Creative Commons

Learning from the projects in other countries and Japan, I believe Japanese government should require textbook authors to make the textbooks available online and free to be edited, through using Creative Commons licenses. MIT Open Course Ware is the great example of federally managed educational resources using Creative Commons license (CC BY-NC-SA). One of the domestic examples is the textbooks made by Linux Professional Institute Japan (LPI-Japan): it made the textbooks for its certification programs public with Creative Commons license(CC BY-NC-ND). It has been said that this project enabled LPI-Japan to increase the number of learners and successfully build learners' community. Japanese government can learn from these examples when digitizing the textbooks to make the textbooks federally managed. The government should require authors to give Share Alike license and allow learners to edit and improve the textbooks. LPI-Japan’s example is No Derivatives, but I think it is important to allow the learners to transform the textbooks with Share Alike licenses because editing process is the important way to learn based on my experience discussed in paragraph 4.

6. Conclusion

In conclusion, I believe digitizing and allowing people to edit textbooks can be a way to improve them because such textbooks will give students chances to learn diverse and new ideas. In order to make this happen, textbook authors should use Creative Commons licenses and allow learners to improve their textbooks.

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r3 - 30 Dec 2020 - 18:21:18 - MaikoHayakawa
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