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Boy who pushed for hospital high school education passes away

Chunichi Shimbun

An 18-year-old boy from Kasugai, Aichi Prefecture, who had called for hospital schooling for sick high school students and helped establish a teacher dispatch system, passed away last month.

Knowing that he did not have long to live, Yoshiki Ito had struggled to achieve his goal.

Ito had been hospitalized in Nagoya University Hospital’s pediatrics department after being diagnosed with cancer in his left kidney when he was a second-year junior high school student.

Encouraged by his fellow patients, he passed the entrance exam for the design course at Seto Pottery Senior High School. But his condition worsened and he was unable to attend classes.

Since hospital schooling is only offered at elementary and junior high levels — which is compulsory education in Japan — there was no way for Ito to continue his studies.

He sent an appeal to Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura last year in October, asking the prefecture to create a high school program for hospitalized children.

Upon receiving Ito’s appeal, the prefecture’s board of education began to look into the matter.

They determined that it was difficult to start a program for hospitalized high school students because the number of such students is small. Instead, they arranged for schools to dispatch teachers to hospitals three times a week to tutor patients in their subject of choice for two hours at a time.

Ito became the first student to enroll in the program.

Takashi Yamaguchi, 62, a teacher from his high school, visited the hospital in February and March to give him design lessons on four occassions.

However, Ito could no longer endure intensive treatments using strong cancer drugs.

He returned home to concentrate on treatments to alleviate pain instead, and had to give up his hospital schooling.

“He was a very passionate boy. I wanted to continue his lessons at home, but that was not allowed under the system,” said Yamaguchi.

As early as six months before he sent the letter to the governor, Ito was informed by doctors that there was no hope of recovery. But he pursued the issue not only for his own benefit, but for others in the future.

Eventually he was hospitalized again after his pain medication stopped working.

On Nov. 18, with the help of hospital staff, he recorded a 10-minute video message, thanking his parents and brother for their help and support.

The next day, he asked for a sedative through an IV and remained unconscious until he died on Nov. 27, leaving behind seven letters for his family and friends.

“If our existence is defined by what we did for others, then the 18 years of Yoshiki’s life (had) a huge impact. I’ve learned a lot from him — about how to face death and how to live your life,” said Yoshiyuki Takahashi, 48, his doctor.

The country has yet to establish a seamless education system for hospitalized children, with only Tokyo and Okinawa offering programs for high school students.

In other areas, hospital visits by teachers are slowly on the rise, in part due to personal appeals from patients.

Osaka Prefecture launched a system of dispatching part-time teachers to hospitals in 2012, after Suzunosuke Kubota of Osaka, who died in 2013 at the age of 18, made a request in an email message to the Osaka Municipal Government, which prompted Mayor Toru Hashimoto to take action.

Kanagawa Prefecture also started a similar program in response to a high school girl’s request.

In Aichi, two high school students are using the system this year. One of them managed to return to school and the other is continuing to study under the program.

However, the system remains available only to students who are in hospital and does not include those who are receiving treatment at home, as is often the case for pediatric cancer patients.

Even at the elementary and junior high levels, children have to transfer to a special school before they can take part in hospital schooling. Many children who were attending private schools found it difficult to return to school after recovering from their illness.

“I’m happy that Aichi has created this system, but private schools should be included too. Many children who are having difficulty going to school after being discharged from hospital also miss out on their education,” said Ito’s mother, Shinobu, 43.

“I hope the system can give proper support to children who are having a hard time fighting against diseases,” she said.

This section, appearing Tuesdays, features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Dec. 2.