National / Social Issues

Panel urges government to do more to prevent bullying of 3/11 school children

Kyodo

A special government panel will urge the government to do more to prevent students who were relocated after the 2011 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis from being bullied at school, in the first planned review of its basic policy on the issue.

The move, decided on Tuesday, follows a series of revelations about the bullying of evacuees from nuclear crisis-hit Fukushima Prefecture, including a first-year student at a junior high school in Yokohama who had the word “germ” added to his name.

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology is seeking to raise awareness about bullying in schools and communities by highlighting cases linked to the disaster that hit the Tohoku region on March 11, 2011, ministry officials said.

The special panel, led by Yoji Morita, a professor at Naruto University of Education, broadly agreed on a draft revision to the basic policy under a law aimed at preventing bullying at schools.

The draft revision pointed out that teachers needed to understand the physical and mental effects of the disaster on affected students and provide mental health care services.

The draft, expected to be finalized in March after a public comment period, also clarifies the need for teachers to learn more about issues affecting sexual minorities.

The law on bullying, enacted in June 2013, demands that the central government and each school draw up their own basic policies.

Education experts welcomed the latest move, saying it would make it easier for schools to tackle the issue.

“There is a possibility of children from the Tohoku region coming to our school as well,” said a principal of an elementary school in Osaka Prefecture.

“We should consider stating (students affected by the 2011 disaster face being bullied) in our basic policy so that the issue will not fade even after five or six years.”

The school offers classes for senior students to learn the history of discrimination against survivors of the 1945 Hiroshima atomic bombing.

“Bullying and discrimination arise from prejudice. It will become even more vital to acquire the right knowledge,” the principal said.

The head of an elementary school in Kanagawa Prefecture said that rather than merely stating the need to prevent and detect bullying at an early stage, it would be better to provide teachers with specific examples of bullying to improve their awareness of the issue.

Naoki Ogi, a professor of Hosei University specializing in education, said it was significant that the central government was tackling the ongoing issue.

He said school officials tended to be reluctant about adopting anti-bullying measures proposed by individual teachers that focus on issues such as nuclear plants, which could be considered politically sensitive.

“I believe the decision was made because many cases similar to the one in Yokohama emerged nationwide,” said Yuko Ito, an official in charge of human rights education at the Yokohama Board of Education. “We are again reminded that we have to be extra careful about dealing with the issue, although more than five years have passed (since the disaster struck).”