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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Neoliberal governmentality and school choice in Japan : the role of school principals Hayase, Michiyo


The purpose of this study is to understand the ways in which the school choice programs are implemented in Japan, by focusing on the role of junior high school principals who are one of the key actors in the education system. In particular, the study sought to answer the following question: How do principals in large-scale and small-scale public junior high schools respond to school choice programs in Japan? Drawing upon the concept of neoliberal governmentality used by Larner (2000) and Brown (2003), this research looks at how principals work as neoliberal subjects in managing market-driven school choice programs within the public junior high school system in Japan. The bulk of my data comes from semi-structured interviews with five principals in Tokyo and Saitama. This study finds that three principals (from two large-scale and one small- scale schools) articulate their views about school choice clearly. In particular, one principal of an large-scale school advocates school choice, and his opinions are in line with predominant narratives in the school choice literature in Japan, regarding school choice as the incentive for teachers to work hard and for the creation of distinctive schools. Two principals’ views are more ambivalent. While they are in favor of general notions such as freedom of choice, they are against school choice in a practical sense, especially in reference to the predicaments that a principal of a small-scale school experiences. In terms of their actions, principals can be categorized into active and passive groups. Active principals of two large-scale and one small-scale schools incorporate endeavors to open up their schools to the community and primary school students and to improve students’ academic performance. Passive principals of two small-scale principals, in contrast, do not pursue specific activities. Instead, they make the most of their given situation, their small school size. One of them tries to resist school choice programs. In sum, the introduction of the school choice program that is based on the market principle has the potential for changing the meaning of public education that puts emphasis on holistic education into the one that is centered around market values.

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