Steady efforts needed to restore schools (Daily Yomiuri editorial 28th Mar)

The Yomiuri Shimbun

For children who have suffered mental trauma as a result of the recent earthquake and tsunami, school can be a valuable forum in which to talk to friends and teachers and encourage each other.

The situation remains severe in devastated areas, with no clear prospects for reconstruction, but we hope initial steps will be taken to put school life back in order.

The March 11 disaster left enormous scars on education on the Pacific coast of the Tohoku and Kanto regions.

More than 1,000 children have died or gone missing. Municipally run Okawa Primary School in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, was swallowed entirely by tsunami, and of its 108 pupils, only 30 percent have been confirmed safe. Also, many children in stricken areas have lost their parents.

About 670,000 textbooks for the new academic year, starting in April, were lost or damaged and cannot be used.

School buildings and gymnasiums that survived the earthquake and tsunami are being used as evacuation centers. Evacuees likely will have to endure the inconvenience of life in such shelters for an extended period, as it will take some time to build temporary housing units.

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Daunting job ahead

Securing places of learning ahead of the new school term starting in April will be no easy task. Temporary buildings will have to be erected on school grounds or classrooms used at other schools. Another possibility would be to use school buildings left idle due to the abolition and integration of schools.

Iwate, Miyagi and Fukushima prefectures are calling for an increase in the number of teachers and for the dispatch of counselors. It is important now to provide sensitive, attentive care for each child.

The education ministry should set aside sufficient funds for the allocation of necessary teachers and distribution of school textbooks.

An increasing number of disaster victims have been moving from evacuation centers in damaged areas to locations in other prefectures, as radiation leakage from malfunctioning nuclear reactors added to the magnitude of the disaster. Local governments that have accepted evacuees will begin taking applications for entry into schools under their administration.

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Emotional care vital

Children evacuated from their hometowns often feel uneasy about life in strange places, and it may take some time to grow accustomed to a new environment. Schools that accept such children must take extra care to prevent them from feeling isolated.

The Hiroshima prefectural Board of Education has announced a plan to accept about 160 primary students and their teachers as a group, and also to provide living facilities. Local governments also should investigate ways to help.

The emotional care of children must be undertaken from a medium- and long-term perspective, as post-traumatic stress disorder tends to emerge over time.

After the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake, a total of about 1,700 teachers in charge of emotional care were assigned to primary and middle schools in damaged areas over a period of 15 years. They visited children’s homes repeatedly and listened to their worries.

We should take advantage of what we learned through this experience.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 27, 2011)

(Mar. 28, 2011)