Shrinking town looks to education

by Kayo Mimizuka

Kyodo News

MATSUE, Shimane Pref. (Kyodo) The town of Ama on Nakanoshima Island, one of the Oki Islands in Shimane Prefecture is trying to battle depopulation by enriching its educational offerings to bring young people back.

Because the island has no cram school or private tutors, the town has decided to establish a public cram school and invite students from other areas to come study.

The town, which has a population of about 2,400, thrives on cuttlefish and abalone fishing. The prefectural Okidozen Senior High School is the only school of its type in the area, which includes Nishinoshima and Chiburi islands. It has about 90 students enrolled, which is less than half of what it had 10 years ago.

About half of the junior high school graduates leave the island in search of better educational environments, and some of their families go with them.

In the past three years, seven teachers have left their positions. There is no physics teacher, and physics lessons haven’t been given since 1977.

The municipal board of education has turned to information technology to improve the educational environment. With subsidies from the state and prefectural governments, the public cram school will be set up as early as this winter.

The shortage of teachers will be offset by the Internet and satellite TV, and the center will also try to step up practical studies, individual guidance and measures to study for university entrance exams, a crucial duty the senior high school has been unable to handle.

“Study coordinators” will be put in charge of managing the center, and guidance will be invited from among those who have left the island or returned. In the future, the center will extend a helping hand to elementary and junior high school students as well.

Yu Iwamoto, 29, who moved back from Tokyo to take part in creating the cram school, said, “Even on a remote island, there is the full possibility to realize what it wants with its ingenuity.”

One more role the center is going to play is as a welcomer of students from other areas. The center will appeal to children who do not fit in at large schools and families who want to raise children in a nature-friendly atmosphere.