Tomioka town to make soon-to-reopen grade, junior high schools community exchange hub

Tomioka town in Fukushima Prefecture is set to use elementary and junior high schools reopening in April as a “community hub” where residents can casually visit for exchanges with schoolchildren. The schools, positioned as the Tomioka campus of the Tomioka elementary and junior high schools set up in Miharu town following the 2011 nuclear accident, are to be housed in the Tomioka Daiichi (first) Junior High School buildings. The planned hub is intended to offer an environment in which townspeople and schoolchildren can learn from each other. The town plans to provide a unique education program of its own, also including lessons by experts in various fields invited as lecturers, in a bid to increase the number of evacuated children returning to their hometown for study. The planned venue for interaction among townspeople and schoolchildren is to be named a “life-giving school.” The town presumes that residents, mainly elderly people, and children can teach one another in their respective areas of specialty such as cooking, sewing, handicrafts and personal computers. Coordinators linking the schools and townspeople will be placed in an exchange space to be set up on the first floor of one of the school buildings. It will be used as a site for interaction during breaks and other free time. Classes to be conducted by invited lecturers will be titled “professionals in school.” The lecturers will include artists, craftspeople, athletes and researchers. The classes are designed to offer opportunities for children to learn the importance of having knowledge, skills and dreams, among other things, through contact with experts. Also planned is having experts stay at the school as “transfer students” for a short period and engage in creative work and other activities together with children. Furthermore, the town’s education board is considering promoting education in information and communication technology, providing enhanced English education, making school education free, and operating school buses for commuting children within and outside the prefecture, among other plans. Before the Great East Japan Earthquake and ensuing accident at Tokyo Electric Power Co.’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, Tomioka had two grade schools and two junior high schools, with a total of some 1,400 students enrolled. The current number of registered schoolchildren is about 900. In the Miharu campus of the Tomioka elementary and junior high schools, 11 grade school pupils and 19 junior high school pupils are enrolled, but many others attend schools in evacuated places outside their own districts. An education board survey of parents and guardians having elementary and junior high school students, conducted in June last year, asked them if they “will return home permanently.” Of 485 responding households, only nine (1.9%) replied they are “considering returning” while 55 (11.3%) said they “cannot make a decision” and 421 (86.8%) answered they “cannot return.” The board is confirming the final intentions of evacuated families but expects to resume the schools with a small number of students. “Given the current status of Tomioka, establishing a school where various people, ranging from children to the elderly, get together will lead to improving the attractions of education in the town,” said school superintendent Kenichi Ishii. “We would like to have as many schoolchildren as possible return to the hometown by pushing ahead with unique education on our own.” (Translated by Kyodo News)