The Fukushima Prefectural Board of Education will reduce its number of prefecture-run high schools by 15 by the end of fiscal 2023 as the region continues to struggle with a dwindling number of students due to a declining birthrate.
The mergers will be implemented over the span of three years from fiscal 2021 and will reduce the number of high schools in the prefecture from 96 to 81.
Twenty-five schools will be merged and reorganized into 13 under the plan, which will integrate schools located in close proximity of one another. Each school will retain four to six classes per grade.
With the merger, the prefecture’s 88 day schools and seven night schools will be reduced to 74 and six, respectively, by the end of March 2024, according to the education board’s reform plan revealed Feb. 8. Fukushima’s only correspondence school will remain open.
Takuya Okazaki and Hideki Yaginuma, who are both in charge of the plan, told a news conference the same day that the integration is necessary to provide a better learning environment for the students.
The education board says it will offer briefings to local residents and members of alumni associations affected by the merger.
Taking into considering their opinions and concerns, the education board will decide the number of students the affected schools will accept in the academic year of the merger. The names of the integrated schools will also be decided after consultation with relevant parties.
In the education board’s plan on prefectural high school reform drafted in May last year, the number of students is estimated to decrease by about 5,300.
The education board has also been considering consolidating smaller schools with less than three classes per grade, which face challenges in fostering intense competition and a high level of participation in clubs and extracurricular activities.
People in the towns and cities affected by the move expressed a variety of opinions.
While some say it’s the inevitable result of a declining birthrate, residents from depopulated areas fear the move will lead to fewer opportunities for students in the classroom.
Meanwhile, many schools that survived the cut breathed a sigh of relief.
Naganuma High School in the city of Sukagawa — which will merge with Sukagawa High School — celebrated the 70th anniversary of its founding in October. The school initially started out as a branch of another high school but became an independent institution in 1978.
“I’ve always recommended the school to local children because I wanted it to last,” said Hidenao Kobayashi, 58, president of the school’s alumni association. “I was quite shocked.”
Some municipalities, including the town of Hanawa, will no longer have a local high school as a result of the reorganization.
Hidetoshi Miyata — the mayor of Hanawa, where Hanawa Technical High School is slated to be consolidated into Shirakawa Jitsugyo High School in the adjacent city — criticized the decision.
“I’m certain there will be students that will have a hard time commuting to Shirakawa city,” Miyata said. “It seems like the prefectural board of education made the decision on their own terms and with little knowledge of the local situation.”
The mayor of the town of Kawamata, where Kawamata High School survived the cut, said he was relieved.
“There are students who say they want to study at Kawamata High School, which has a long history. We will cooperate with the prefecture and the school and provide support,” said Mayor Kanemasa Sato.
Haruo Auchi, an associate professor at Fukushima University and an expert in education administration, said that “the entire region will be affected with more people leaving,” adding that the education board needs to thoroughly explain the plan.
This section features topics and issues from Fukushima covered by the Fukushima Minpo, the largest newspaper in Fukushima Prefecture. The original article was published on Feb. 9.