KYOTO — Parents whose sons or daughters stop attending school often research methods to encourage their children to return by reading books and attending lectures by experts.
But Takayoshi Noda, 42, who runs an alternative school in Muko, said there is no cure-all method, as each case differs. He said that in some cases, the problem may lie in the parents’ own marital relationship.
In an effort to give such parents a chance to reflect on the issue from a different perspective, the school, Mirai no Kai (Group of the Future), plans a play in September that features family discord, which may be partly responsible for their children dropping out of school.
“What the audience gets out of the play will differ from person to person, but I hope the play will give parents and their children an opportunity to think over the issue by reflecting on their own situation,” Noda said.
According to government statistics, the number of junior high students who failed to attend school for more than 30 days a year without specific reasons was about 100,000 in fiscal 1999, up 20 percent from the previous year.
Three of the 13 people who act in the play were chosen because they had not attended school for a long period of time or had dropped out completely. Some of Noda’s students will also help to make the play successful by helping out behind the scenes.
The comedy was written by Tsuyoshi Tanabe, a graduate student of Kyoto University, who helped to oversee student’s studies at the Noda’s school last year.
Tanabe, who runs a theater group, said he wants to focus on the family because it plays a vital role in kids’ mental and physical development.
“Even if children have some bad experiences at school, I think they can learn to cope if they have a family they can trust and if they feel secure,” Tanabe said.
Holding a play is one of the many ways Noda is trying to give dropouts a chance to develop good relationships with others.
Since establishing the school in October 1998, Noda has created a soccer team and a music band. He also invited other young people outside of the school to join in the activities.
Currently, 11 people aged between 15 and 20, who are either long-term dropouts or have temporarily stopped going to school, come to Noda’s school, which has yet to establish a fixed curriculum. Having 20 years of experience as a teacher at different schools also enables Noda to hold consultations with parents and dispense advise.
While Noda believes that parents must take the initial responsibility for their children’s problems, he is also critical of existing schools and the teachers who work at them, saying many of them lack the enthusiasm to give students a good education.
In order to help change the situation, he is calling for bringing competition into the school field by giving social recognition to alternative schools in order to diversify educational opportunities.
“Public schools and their teachers are too protected,” Noda said. “They would try much harder to make their schools better if they faced competition.”
Noda wants to make his school a place where students can study various things that can help them live and work well in society.
“I always tell my students that ‘you don’t have to go to (regular) school, but you have to study hard,’ ” he said.
Noda also wants his students to become internationally minded people by learning about Japanese and foreign history and culture.
Last year, Noda took some of his students to South Korea to visit a welfare home in Kyongju for elderly Japanese women. These women were married to Koreans before World War II and subsequently lost their Japanese nationality. They also visited an alternative school in Seoul. At the welfare home, the students seemed to have been shocked to hear about the residents’ experiences.
“Listening to their experiences directly from them will have a much greater impact on the students than me telling them about it a thousand times,” Noda said.
As a way to develop relationships with Koreans, Noda wants to invite some of them to Japan to a soccer game next January in which his team would play against teams of foreigners living in Japan.