Post-Fukushima Educational Practices

By Omori Naoki (Professor, Center for the Research and Support of Educational Practice, Tokyo Gakugei University)

Children exposed to radiation or forced to evacuate as newborns in 2011 are currently in their 5th or 6th year of elementary school and will proceed to junior high, then on to high school and university. For these children in junior high, high school and university, together with those who were spared exposure and evacuation, how should we implement education to heighten awareness of the nuclear accident so that those who were affected by it can come to a renewed understanding and acceptance of the reality of the disaster caused by the nuclear accident? Before delving into this question, there are two matters I would like to clarify now both in and out of schools.

The Extent of Schools Affected by the Nuclear Disaster

First, is to understand what a broad region the schools affected by the nuclear disaster were located in. I wish to define this term as “schools which students were attending locally that are located in any of the evacuation zones, zones targeted for voluntary evacuation, or areas where surveys have emphasized contaminated conditions.” Evacuation zones and zones targeted for voluntary evacuation have been designated by the national government in Fukushima Prefecture, and areas where surveys have highlighted contaminated conditions have been similarly designated in eight prefectures: Miyagi, Fukushima, Ibaraki, Chiba, Tochigi, Saitama and Gunma.

According to the “List of Schools Affected by the Nuclear Disaster” compiled by Ohashi Yasuaki of Nagoya University for Foreign Students (included in the recently published 3-11 no Kyoiku Jissen Kiroku, (Record of Educational Practice after 3/11)), as of March 2011, the schools that had become “schools affected by the nuclear disaster” included 2,347 public schools in the eight affected prefectures, in which 736,251 students were enrolled. The figure 2,347 is equivalent to 32 percent of the total 7,315 public schools operating in those eight prefectures at that time.

The Term ‘Educational Practice’

Next, I want to take a look at the history of education at the schools affected by the nuclear disaster, with a focus on educational practice. I define “educational practice” as a term for “consciously ascertaining the actual activities of education” (Shin-Kyoiku Daijiten, Vol. 2, (New Unabridged Education Dictionary, 1990)), but I want to clear up the following matters.

First, this term has been supported by people in the midst of a remarkable releasing of a record of educational practice, which began with Yamabiko Gakko (School of Echoes), under the editorship of the renowned Japanese educator Muchaku Seikyo and published in 1951.

Second, according to Muchaku, in educational practice, the actual life circumstances of the children are to be given careful consideration. Muchaku got his start in education in 1948 as a social studies teacher at a junior high school in Yamamoto Village (currently part of Kaminoyama City), Yamagata Prefecture. Muchaku came in contact with “the realities of a village in extreme poverty, where about 20% of the class would be absent due to the need to help with their family’s work.” He was keenly aware of the excessive discrepancies between the contents of the textbook produced by the then Ministry of Education (Nihon no Inaka no Seikatsu, (Life in Rural Japan)) and the realities of the village and the fact that if he taught directly from that textbook he would be teaching falsehoods (Gendai Kyoikushi Jiten, (Encyclopedia of Modern Educational History), 2001). At the same time, though, Muchaku noted that the textbook said, “Look back at the way of life in your own village…and strive to create a new rural society.” Even as new educational content, it did place importance on the realities of the children’s lives.

Record of Educational Practice Confronting the Nuclear Accident

Given the above, what kinds of educational practices are being implemented at these 2,347 schools affected by the nuclear disaster? To shed light on this subject, joint research currently advancing is making note of Nihon no Kyoiku (Education in Japan), which is published annually by the Japan Teachers’ Union. Volumes 61-69 of this journal contain about 5,400 titles documenting educational practice that were published in fiscal years 2011-19. Among these works, 42 are seen to fall under the heading of “Records of educational practice confronting the nuclear accident at the schools affected by the nuclear disaster.” The areas shaded light gray in the figure below are “cities, towns and villages with schools affected by the nuclear disaster, and those shaded dark gray are cities, towns and villages that are recognized as having records of educational practice confronting the nuclear accident at the schools affected by the nuclear disaster.” When these are arranged by the results of these educational practices, they can be grouped according to the following two points.

Fig. 1: Numbers of recorded educational practices to confront harm at schools affected by the nuclear disaster (2011-19 school years)

Realities of the Children’s Lives

The first is that the realities of the children’s lives in the shadow of the nuclear accident have been noted.

At a junior high school in Ichinoseki City, Iwate Prefecture, there was a movement to teach the students that there had been “no particular problems” after the nuclear accident, since there had been no special directives from the education committee. However, contamination of rice straw had been reported in the neighboring town of Fujisawa. The school’s faculty borrowed radiometers from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology and began measuring air dose rates at the school starting that August. A reading taken on November 1 in a 3rd floor classroom showed 0.05 μSv/h (microSieverts per hour), and one in the baseball club supporters’ area showed 0.7 μSv/h. The students expressed dismay, saying “We were surprised to find such very high radiation doses in places close at hand. From now on in our daily lives, we will be careful not to approach grassy places or rain puddles.”

An elementary school teacher in Fukushima City noted, “More than five years have passed but we continue to experience effects from radioactivity in Fukushima Prefecture.” The following was written at the time of a prefectural health survey (thyroid testing) being conducted at that school:

“The children asked, ‘Why do we have to undergo this testing?’ The adults present at that time just stood there silently or gave ambiguous replies such as ‘to find illness at an early stage.’”

In the 42 reports on educational practice, these kinds of murmurings and expressions by children have come to be taken seriously.

Create Opportunities for Free Expression

The second is that new educational content has been produced based on the realities of the children’s lives.

One example is educational content that encourages freedom of expression from children who have faced stress in their lives in the shadow of the nuclear accident. Teachers at an elementary school in Yabuki, a town in central Fukushima Prefecture ruminated as follows about the situation nine months after the nuclear accident: “Right now in Fukushima, is it really okay to teach straight from the textbook?” “I wonder if classes could be conducted in a way to encourage the children to express what they are thinking and what they really want to say.” One effort to craft plans toward this goal for fourth graders was to create “hero masks” on the theme of “Yabuki, our hometown suffering from the earthquake and contamination.” The main points of this instruction included “sometimes feeling anger and conveying it properly” and “we are angry but will restore Fukushima to her former beauty, feel reassured and grow up in Fukushima with a peaceful heart, and consider items needed for living here.” One child, who produced a “Fukushima Nature Mask” gave his impressions: “Forty years after this mask has been made, I want Fukushima to be free from radioactivity.” Each of the masks they produced expressed the severity of the current situation amid humor and unease about radioactive contamination.

Decide as a Society What to Do

A second example is educational content that helps children living in areas contaminated with radioactive substances avoid exposure even a little. In many cases, no agreement has been reached either at home or school in contaminated areas to “avoid exposure even by a little.” What should children do? Yamamoto Haruhisa at a prefectural high school in Chiba gave this matter consideration and made efforts to provide a course on “The issue of radioactivity in Kashiwa City, Chiba Prefecture” during the 2013 school year. He summed up this issue as, “In localities such as the area around Kashiwa City, where there are actual risks of low-level exposure, how should we be considering measures to protect ourselves from that radiation?” One basic approach regarding protection from radiation is to “devise measures to reduce exposure within rational limits that are socially feasible.” In such cases, he said, “’feasible rational limits’” should no longer be determined by ‘science,’ but rather by ‘society.’” That efforts by local citizens in May to October 2011 through the organization “Save the Children from Radiation in Kashiwa” had an influence on the Kashiwa Decontamination Plan (March 2012) can be said to be an example of a process by which “society decides.” Ten lessons were taught based on this way of seeing the situation.

The first five lessons were aimed at obtaining a decent understanding of scientific knowledge regarding radiation. In lessons 4 and 5, in particular, the students heard talks from experts with different opinions on the health effects of low-level exposure. In lessons 7 through 9, they heard local citizens talk about decontamination plans in Kashiwa City through cooperation between citizens and the government. The aim was to create awareness among the students that this is an issue for “society to decide” and that it was something that they themselves should determine. In the 6th, 9th and 10th lessons, the students held debates during which they respected differences of opinion. They debated whether it should be considered safe, since there was no scientific proof of danger, or conversely whether it should be considered dangerous, since there was no scientific proof that it was safe. The students learned, while studying a real life case in Kashiwa City, that in resolving societal issues it is important for people with a compelling awareness that they are affected to make decisions on the basis of sufficient information and work persistently to create agreement among people with differing standpoints and opinions.

In post-World War II educational practice, the aim spelled out by the national government was to overcome irrationalities in educational content by learning “scientific certainty.” The nuclear accident, however, brought about a renewed manifestation of the issues of scientific uncertainty, the use of scientific uncertainties in policy-making, and what to do when science alone is insufficient for determining things. The educational practices examined here touch on the issues being learned about through efforts by local citizens and the government to deal with “scientific certainties and uncertainties.”

Confronting the Sense of Loss

A third example is educational content for the purpose of confronting the sense of loss among the children who were robbed of their former lives by the nuclear accident. Hirono Municipal Junior High in the town of Hirono was in a designated restricted zone (emergency evacuation preparation zone), and its functions were therefore transferred temporarily to the Yumoto Daini Municipal Junior High School in Iwaki City and then returned to their original school building in October 2012. Shibaguchi Masatake, a teacher at this school, took a year, starting in 2013, to create teaching material by the title of “Futaba” to teach the children of Futaba District about the nuclear accident. First, he chose to create it from the “Protecting citizens’ health and the living environment from pollution” teaching material unit for 5th grade elementary school social studies classes. He decided on “Processing of contaminated water,” “Operation of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station and its connection with Okuma Town,” “Course of events during the nuclear accident,” “Four major pollution-related diseases” and “Town development in the future” as the content, but quickly hit a wall. Could anyone really envision a “bright future” based on this? Would it have any meaning to the children? On the contrary, would it be counterproductive? Shibaguchi struggled with it.

“In the midst of arguments on whether or not to return or whether it would even be possible, would bringing up Futaba as teaching material to these children, for whom it was supposed to have become their “beloved hometown,” have any positive effect on them? Or rather, I thought, would it not be best to avoid bringing it up? More than anything else, to cease my research for these teaching materials and not produce them at all would be best if they would cause the children to have a ‘future without hope.’”

What Shibaguchi thought up as a last resort was to assume the children studying the material would be coming from three different standpoints: the standpoint of thinking about what they themselves could do or wanted to do or what could be done within their family; the standpoint of thinking about what their town or village could or wanted to do and what could be done within their town or village; and the standpoint of what they themselves could do or wanted to do at a national or global scale. Shibaguchi decided first to present his teaching materials to find out how the children would think or feel about them, and then proceed with the lessons. Shibaguchi was also spurred by a sense of crisis that if he didn’t hurry, the many issues related to the nuclear accident would wind up completely forgotten.

Naraha Municipal Junior High School in the town of Naraha was located in a restricted zone (controlled area), so it was temporarily closed in the 2011 school year and its functions transferred temporarily from 2012 to Iwaki Meisei University. The school’s faculty held a moral education course for second year students in 2015 titled Kyodo no Naka no Watashi (I in my hometown), for which Shibaguchi newly prepared the Futatsu no Furusato (two ‘homes of one’s heart’) teaching material. All 17 of the school’s second year students were evacuees who had been away from their own homes since the time they’d become elementary level 4th grade students. They couldn’t even visit Naraha Town, where their homes were.

Shibaguchi composed Futatsu no Furusato based on the realities of life in his own family. It is a story about an elementary school student, Keiko, who had to evacuate from Namie Town with everyone in her family to Koriyama City due to the nuclear accident. She graduates from elementary school, proceeding to junior high school in Koriyama. In 2014, she reaches her third year in junior high school and is having trouble choosing which high school to proceed to. Should she go to a combined junior high and high school that accepts children from Namie District (to open in April 2015), or should she go to a high school in Koriyama, where her family lives? Which is Keiko’s furusato, Namie or Koriyama?

The worksheet handed out during the lesson asked the question, “Why is Keiko having trouble deciding which school to choose?” The students, though, had trouble thinking of what to write. Then the teacher brought up a student they knew whose family had built a new house in the area to which they had evacuated, saying, “Isn’t this just like ‘Student A’s’ family?” The students said, “Ah, yes!” They could relate to that, and began comparing Keiko’s circumstances to the ones they’d been placed in—“To me, which is my furusato, Naraha or Iwaki?”

The significance of Shibaguchi’s teaching materials becomes more apparent when compared with Muchaku Seikyo’s Yamabiko Gakko. When Muchaku, who began his teaching career in 1948, brought up the sense of loss experienced by the children whose lives had been ruined by the war, there was no hint on how to redress it. Neither were textbooks authored by the then Ministry of Education of any help. Thus, Muchaku created new educational content from the realities of the children’s lives. He was trying to assuage their sense of loss with sympathy for the realities of the children’s daily existence.

When Shibaguchi similarly brought up the sense of loss the children were feeling due to their lives being ruined by the nuclear accident, there were likewise no clues on how to redress it. Neither was the textbook Hoshasen Fuku-dokuhon, (Supplemental Reader on Radiation, 2011 and 2014 editions, authored by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT)) any help. What Shibaguchi did at this juncture by creating new teaching materials about the realities of the children’s lives, was to provide encouragement to the children.

Extent of Schools Accepting Nuclear-accident Evacuees

There is a need, in fact, to make good use of the successes achieved through the educational practices outlined here at schools throughout Japan. The reason is that as of May 2018, “the number of young students,” according to MEXT, “who were forced to evacuate due to the disaster and have been accepted by schools other than those they had been attending prior to the disaster” was 13,065 children, who were spread out among all of Japan’s 47 prefectures. There were 3,311 such students in Fukushima Prefecture, 1,899 in Miyagi, 789 in Iwate, 741 in Niigata, 664 in Yamagata, 553 in Saitama, 532 in Ibaraki, 450 in Hokkaido, 445 in Tokyo and 3,681 spread out among the remaining 38 prefectures. Rather than initiating measures after encountering these evacuated children, it would be better to take a proactive approach first and create a classroom atmosphere in which these child evacuees feel safe in talking about their own experiences, and provide educational content which supports that. If that is done, it will create opportunities for good friendships to develop between the evacuee children and the children around them through their classwork. Such schools are kind toward all of their students.


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