Mass Evacuation of Children: Devise Ways to Secure Learning Opportunities

An attempt has begun to evacuate groups of junior high school students affected by the Noto Peninsula Earthquake to areas far away from their families. It is hoped that every possible effort will be made to ensure that children, including those who remain in the affected areas, have the opportunity to learn.

Students from all three municipal junior high schools in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture, which was severely damaged by the earthquake, have evacuated en masse to facilities in Hakusan in the prefecture, 100 kilometers away. About 250 students, or 60% of these students, were transported by bus or other means, and teachers accompanied them to resume classes at new evacuation sites in Hakusan.

Mass evacuations of residents have been implemented in the past, for example, in the aftermath of an accident at a nuclear power plant that was caused by the Great East Japan Earthquake. This time, however, the unusual step has been taken to evacuate only junior high school students from families who wish for them to relocate, while parents and guardians remain in the afflicted areas in Wajima.

The three junior high schools in Wajima are being used as evacuation centers and are receiving many afflicted people, and classes cannot be held there. The creation of an environment where students can study calmly with their classmates and others can be said to be a realistic response to the actual situation in the affected areas.

The suspension of running water continues in the affected areas, and school buildings have been damaged. The mass evacuation is expected to last for up to two months. The Suzu city government and the Noto town government in the prefecture will take similar steps.

These junior high school students must be lonesome as they are away from their parents and other family members before they have recovered from the shock of the disaster. It is hoped that the central government and boards of education will be attentive to the students’ feelings, for example, by providing opportunities for them to see their families during the evacuation.

On the other hand, there are students who remain in the affected areas mainly because they do not want to be separated from their families. In order to ensure that these students do not fall far behind in their studies, it is important to provide them with generous support through online classes and supplementary education.

As elementary school students are difficult to evacuate alone due to their age, local governments intend to aim to reopen schools in the affected areas. For high school students, an evacuation center has been set up at a hotel in Kanazawa. Measures must be tailored to the age and situation of the children.

Consideration for students preparing for entrance exams must not be forgotten. Hopefully, measures will be considered, such as simplifying application procedures and conducting special entrance examinations for students from the affected areas.

The children affected by the disaster have suffered great emotional trauma. According to a survey by the central government after the Great East Japan Earthquake, some of them suddenly became frightened and sensitive to noises. It is essential for adults to detect anything unusual, listen to the children and protect their emotional stability.

Teachers and others who are taking care of the children in the disaster areas have also been affected by the disaster. They have to protect their own families as well. Support for them from all over Japan is essential, too.

It is necessary to gather support teams for reopening schools that were established after past disasters, as well as former teachers, school counselors and others, from all over the country to help the affected local communities.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Jan. 18, 2024)