Sociology of Education

Toru Onai

Clarifying the Relationship between Education and Social Inequalities

Toru Onai , Professor

Faculty of Education, Graduate School of Education (Department of Education, School of Education)

High school : Gunma Prefecture Ota High School

Academic background : Doctorate from Hokkaido University

Research areas
Sociology of education
Research keywords
social inequalities, class and strata, ethnicity, regional disparities

What is your goal?

I have pursued theoretical research and empirical studies regarding “education and social inequalities.” How social inequalities influence education, and conversely, what functions and roles education plays in social inequalities—my fundamental task is to clarify both of these aspects.

Social inequalities are diverse. Accordingly, in addition to discussing the interrelationship among diverse social inequalities (Kaikyu, Gender, Ethnicity (Class, Gender, and Ethnicity) (joint editorship, Chuohoki Publishing, 2001)), I have focused on three aspects in particular from among diverse social inequalities in my approach to the problem of “education and social inequalities.” 

Class/Strata-related Inequalities and Education

First is the problem of “class/strata-related inequalities and education.” In modern society, education functions as an important factor in forming class/strata-related inequalities. Conversely, class/strata-related inequalities act as major determining factors in education. Recently, these problems have been actively discussed from the standpoint of economic gaps, such as income and assets, in the theories of “gaps” and “poverty.” However, the relationship between “class/strata-related inequalities and education” can be clarified only when a multifaceted examination is carried out that takes into consideration not only economic aspects but also cultural aspects, such as homes and schools, social relationship aspects, and educational aspects. Accordingly, I have examined theories on “class/strata-related inequalities and education” in Saiseisanron wo Yomu (Reading the Theory of Reproduction) (Toshindo, 1995), Kyoiku to Fubyodo no Shakai Riron (Social Theories on Education and Inequalities) (Toshindo, 2005), Kyoiku no Fubyodo (Inequalities in Education) (written and edited by Toru Onai, Nihon Tosho Center, 2009), etc.

Ethnicity and Education

Second is the problem of “ethnicity and education.” Traditionally, social inequalities based on ethnicity in Japan were hidden behind the “single race myth.” However, at present, the illusion of the “single race myth” is beginning to collapse due to objections from minority races that have existed from the past along with a dramatic increase in immigrant workers. Accordingly, one needs to examine what roles education plays with respect to ethnicity-based social inequalities. With this issue in mind, I have pursued empirical studies by selecting an area in which an increasing number of Japanese Brazilians have gathered to live since 1990. The results of my studies are included in Nikkei Braziljin no Teijuka to Chiiki Shakai (Settlement of Japanese Brazilians and Regional Societies) (joint editorship, Ochanomizu Shobo, 2001), Zainichi Braziljin no Kyoiku to Hoiku (Education and Childcare for Brazilians in Japan) (written and edited by Toru Onai, Akashi Shoten, 2003), Koza Transnational na Ido to Teiju (Course: Transnational Mobility and Settlement) (3 volumes) (written and edited by Toru Onai, Ochanomizu Shobo, 2009), etc.

Brazilian school (Isezaki City)

Children at a Brazilian school (Hamamatsu City)

Multilingual posters at a public school (Ota City)


Regional Disparities and Education

Third is the problem of the relationship between “regional disparities and education.” In modern Japan, regional disparities have widened in terms of economy and social life under globalization of the economy. These inequalities in regional societies are also largely related to education. This issue has been discussed as a problem of regional disparities in education on the one hand, and as the role to be played by education to redress the inequalities in regional societies on the other. I have discussed these issues in Sengo Nihon no Chiiki Shakai Hendo to Chiiki Shakai Ruikei (Transformation of Regional Societies and Types of Regional Societies in Postwar Japan) (Toshindo, 1996), Chiiki Shakaigaku no Shiza to Hoho (Perspectives and Methodologies of Regional Sociology) (joint authorship, Toshindo, 2006), Chiiki Shakai heno Manazashi (A Look into Regional Societies) (joint authorship, Bunka Shobo Hakubunsha, 2006), etc. 

Tasks for the Future

Going forward, in addition to further deepening of each of the studies I have pursued so far, I intend to develop a theoretical summary of the mechanisms of “education and social inequalities” as well as an ideal education to overcome social inequalities.