Educational support will help young people revitalize disaster-hit areas

The Yomiuri Shimbun Youthful energy has started making solid progress toward revitalizing the areas affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

A graduation ceremony was held for the first time at Futaba Future High School in Hirono, Fukushima Prefecture, with 140 students leaving the prefecture-run school. The town is located within a 30-kilometer radius of Tokyo Electric Power Company Holdings, Inc.’s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.

The school was founded in 2015, saying it would nurture human resources who would contribute to the revitalization of the disaster-stricken area. About 70 percent of the first batch of students at the new school came from Futaba, their home district. Classes at five other prefecture-run high schools in neighboring areas have been halted due to the impact of the nuclear accident at the plant.

Thanks to assistance from the central government, the school has introduced an overseas study training program and classes to be conducted by leading experts in various fields, trying to improve the educational environment for the students. Many education-related people from across the country have visited the school to take a look at its inquiry-oriented classes, where students delve into local problems in such areas as disaster prevention and agriculture.

The students have surely gained great confidence through their experience of tackling advanced study over three years.

Kenji Endo, 18, a native of Kawauchi in the prefecture who will go on to Fukushima University, expressed his hopes of “studying about renewable energy, thus contributing to my local community,” as he had been inspired by the inquiry-oriented study at the high school and a study program in Germany he attended.

There are more than a few students who experienced bullying and nonattendance at school in the places to which they evacuated. At elementary and junior high schools in Fukushima Prefecture, cases of truancy increased sharply after the quake, and are on the increase even now.

Promote student interactions

Takuto Yamada, 18, a native of Tomioka in the prefecture who is set to go on to Health Sciences University of Hokkaido, thinks of “becoming useful as a school counselor in the future,” based on his experience of becoming unable to attend school when he evacuated from the prefecture. It is hoped he will be able to realize his wish by utilizing his own painful experience.

Futaba Future High School will establish a junior high as an annex in fiscal 2019. The return of child-rearing households has been slow in areas where the evacuation order has been lifted. Securing students is likely to become a future challenge for these areas.

The decline in the youth population is also serious in the Sanriku coastal areas damaged heavily by tsunami. Miyagi prefectural Shizugawa High School in Minami-Sanriku has not filled all its slots for students. The number of students has fallen to 60 percent of what it was before the quake.

In a bid to revitalize the high school, the only one in Minami-Sanriku, a nonprofit organization has started after-school study support, with the town government shouldering the expenses. The support is designed to enhance the academic ability of students who were living in such harsh environments as temporary housing and to expand the scope of their career choices after graduating from high school.

By enhancing the appeal of the high school, an increase in the number of applicants can be expected.

Chihiro Miura, 18, who will go on to Tohoku University of Art and Design in Yamagata, has set her heart on “eventually returning to my hometown in the future to make the town easier for many people to start their own business.”

With the passage of seven years since the quake, there has been an increase in the number of children who do not know about the terrible scene of the disaster back then. It is vital to make efforts not to allow the memories of the quake to fade away.

Opportunities should also be increased in which children from across the country, through school excursions or study programs for practical experience, can interact with people in the quake-affected areas so they can understand the importance of extending continued support to the areas.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, March 13, 2018) Speech


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