20 years after fatal knife attack, schools must not grow lax on security measures

It has been 20 years since a deadly knife attack on children at Ikeda Elementary School attached to Osaka Kyoiku University. This anniversary should be an opportunity to reaffirm the safety of schools and not forget the lessons learned from the incident.

A man armed with kitchen knives entered the school and attacked children one after another. The eight victims — a boy in first grade and seven girls in second grade — were fatally stabbed, while 15 others, including two teachers, were seriously or slightly injured. At the time, there was no assumption that a suspicious person would enter the premises from outside, and it was pointed out that the security system was inadequate.

Reflecting on this, most schools now have crisis management manuals in place to specify the roles of teachers and staff, and provide guidance on evacuation. School gates are locked except when students are coming to or leaving school, and the installation of security cameras and sensors has been expedited.

The number of suspicious persons entering school facilities has been drastically reduced over the past 20 years. It can be said that there has been much progress in introducing these measures.

In spite of that, there are still cases in which children are at risk. In 2014, a man with a knife broke into an elementary school in Gunma Prefecture in broad daylight. Teachers and staff subdued the man with a sasumata two-pronged weapon for catching criminals that was introduced in the wake of the Ikeda incident, and the students escaped harm.

In May this year, a man entered an elementary school in Yokohama and pulled a kitchen knife on a teacher. No children were injured. However, schools across the country should reexamine their safety measures to see if there are any gaps in their precautions.

One elementary school in Hyogo Prefecture posted pictures on the internet to inform parents and guardians about the progress of repair work on classrooms, stairs and corridors.

These photos were deleted after it was pointed out that there were concerns from the perspective of crime prevention. It was feared that the pictures could be used by criminals to help them intrude into the school. It is vital to pay attention to such points.

There are an increasing number of young teachers who were not aware of the circumstances of the Ikeda incident when it happened. It is important for schools to be aware that they have children’s lives in their care.

Since the 2019 academic year, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has made crisis management in the event of an accident, crime or disaster a compulsory part of universities’ teacher training courses. The ministry is developing teaching materials that enable students to learn about school security through videos even after they became teachers, and urging them to make use of them.

Primarily due to the advent of digital society, the environment surrounding children and schools is changing rapidly. Teachers and staff should constantly update their security information and knowledge so as to take appropriate measures.

The percentage of schools that utilize patrol and security services staffed by local volunteers rose temporarily, but has been declining in recent years. It will be a problem if memories of the incident fade and local communities as a whole become less committed to security measures.

It is important for schools to deepen their ties with families and local communities, and work together with them to protect and raise children.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on June 10, 2021.