The number of violent incidents at public elementary schools nationwide rose by 128 to 2,018 in fiscal 2005 — a new record for the third consecutive year, according to the education ministry’s report entitled “Research on Problematic Behavior.”

The report said the number of assaults on teachers at public elementary schools rose by 38 percent — from 336 in fiscal 2004 to 464 in fiscal 2005. Such assaults include seizing teachers by their lapels and throwing chairs at them.

The education ministry has found that each elementary school student implicated in assaulting a teacher had done so an average 1.8 times. It says schools have apparently failed to administer proper guidance and discipline to students after they commit their first assault against a teacher, prompting many students to try it again. In response to the findings, the ministry has instructed school principals to take a strict attitude toward problem students, and be ready to suspend them from class. But is this enough to solve the problem?

At public junior high schools, meanwhile, the number of violent incidents almost leveled off — 23,110 in fiscal 2004 vs. 23,115 in fiscal 2005. The corresponding number at public senior high school slightly increased from 5,022 to 5,150. For all three school categories, the total number of violent incidents rose by 0.9 percent to 30,283. By contrast, the number of violent incidents outside school involving public elementary, junior high and senior high-school students decreased by 6.6 percent to 3,735.

The statistics suggest the possibility that the stress accumulated in many children at home and at school manifests itself in violence — such as when a ninth-grader and a seventh-grader of the same school injure themselves in a fight over a trivial matter, or when a student hits and injures a student from another school after suddenly starting a quarrel, or when an angry student hits the leg of a teacher after the teacher warns him about his behavior.

Some children may not receive enough love from their parents due to the parents’ neglect, divorce or drug addiction. Unemployment due to corporate restructuring also may deprive parents of the resources and mental energy to love their children. It is said that children who feel this lack of love, or emptiness, tend to act in a manner that will get other people’s attention, including violent behavior in front of others.

The effect of “entrance examination hell” should not be overlooked. Some students with good school records may feel pressure to excel from parents who place excessively high hopes in them. Since these “good children” are loath to disobey or disappoint their parents, stress may build up in them all the more, with tragic consequences.

One recent example was the case of a 16-year-old senior high-school student from Tawaramoto, Nara Prefecture, who was arrested June 22 on suspicion of setting fire to his house. His stepmother, half brother and half sister died in the blaze. Both his father and stepmother were medical doctors, working at different locations. The father called his son’s study room the “ICU (intensive care unit)” and is reported to have hit him when his academic performance showed a decline.

Another factor may be that children today seem to have fewer and fewer chances to mingle and play with other children of various ages. In the past, children naturally learned how to solve problems among themselves when quarrels and fights broke out. Disagreements and their outcomes taught children where to draw the line so that they wouldn’t go to the extreme of seriously hurting one another.

These days, children have been deprived of such chances, absorbed as they are with TV games or attendance at cram schools after school. And due to the declining birthrate, children may not have many other children to play with in the neighborhood.

For their part, teachers nowadays are burdened not only with the task of teaching but also with miscellaneous administrative work. Thus it has become difficult for them to find enough time to mingle with children and build trustful relationships with them.

Various factors such as the widening gap between the rich and poor, entrance examination hell, deterioration of the family environment, and the lack of communication between teachers and children are contributing to the increasing incidence of student violence. School authorities should not hesitate to frankly speak with parents if their children have problems and to ask other parents for help. This could be a first small step toward solving the problem.

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