The Yomiuri Shimbun (Mar. 11, 2013)
Tohoku children also need ‘restoration’ after disaster
Children are the future of the Tohoku region, which was devastated by the Great East Japan Earthquake. We hope their educational needs will be restored as quickly as possible in disaster-hit areas.
After the March 11, 2011, disaster, the government has dispatched a relatively generous number of teachers to support children at schools in the three disaster-hit prefectures in the Tohoku region.
In the classrooms, special programs have been launched to have children learn traditional crafts of the areas and think about the future of their hometowns. Educating them on the places they hail from is expected to deepen the children’s love for their communities and have a long-term effect in helping restore devastated areas.
The government should continue offering support through the dispatch of teachers and other school staff. It also should improve educational content and further develop the education system.
Decrease in students
However, many schools have seen a decrease in students. This is most serious in municipalities around the crippled Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant operated by Tokyo Electric Power Co.
For instance, the town of Namie, Fukushima Prefecture, has moved its administrative functions to the city of Nihonmatsu in another part of the prefecture. Namie Primary School has continued classes in a building of a defunct school in Nihonmatsu.
However, many of the school’s children have transferred to other schools. Namie Primary School had more than 500 students before the earthquake and tsunami, but the number has dropped to only 30. No new students will enroll in the school in April.
Even if residents who evacuated to other areas returned to their hometowns, the situation would remain difficult. Hirono Primary School, run by the town of Hirono, Fukushima Prefecture, resumed classes at its old school building in August. But only 20 percent of its previous student body has returned to the school.
Municipal governments apparently want to maintain the foundation of their communities and retain bonds with their residents by keeping local schools operating.
However, parents tend to be anxious about having their children return with them to their own homes in areas where radiation is still too high for them to do so in the foreseeable future or where the foundations for their livelihood have not yet been fully restored.
Municipal governments have to present them with a picture of restoration in the near future along with detailed explanations. We also hope the central government and other organizations concerned will help create jobs in the disaster-hit areas, leading to the stabilization of the livelihood of children’s guardians.
It is also concerned that a prolonged life as an evacuee might have a negative effect on children.
Children of evacuees are said to spend insufficient time on study at home because they have no space to concentrate on their studies in tiny temporary housing units.
The project of a nonprofit organization to have former schoolteachers and former cram school instructors help such children study after school is very significant.
Meanwhile, according to a school health survey by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, the percentage of overweight children has increased sharply in Fukushima Prefecture, probably because they play less outdoors due to radiation fears.
The central and local governments should develop indoor sports facilities in addition to those at the schools so children can be more physically active.
Equally important is their psychological care. In case of the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, the number of children who suffered from mental stress and needed psychological care peaked three years after the disaster.
We hope the education ministry continues to send counselors to schools in the disaster-hit areas and develops consultation services further.
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 10, 2013)