Classes have resumed in the 12 elementary and middle schools of Natori, Miyagi Prefecture, which was devastated by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. In the heavily damaged city of Ishinomaki, north of Natori in Miyagi Prefecture, all the elementary and middle schools are scheduled to resume classes in late April.
But many other schools in disaster-struck northeastern Japan are experiencing great difficulties. More than 6,500 publicly-run and private schools — including 1,054 in Ibaraki Prefecture, 920 in Miyagi Prefecture, 471 in Iwate Prefecture and 134 in Aomori Prefecture — sustained severe damage.
Many children and teachers died in the disaster, including 221 in Miyagi Prefecture and 48 in Iwate Prefecture and 36 in Fukushima Prefecture. Many more teachers and children remain missing, meaning that the final death toll will greatly increase. Other children survived the quake and tsunami, but have lost their parents and other family members.
Many school buildings continue to serve as temporary shelters for evacuees. Teachers who are helping evacuees are suffering from fatigue. The disasters have traumatized many children, and for some their trauma is being exacerbated by their long stays in temporary shelters. A resumption of classes is important because meeting friends and teachers will help to heal children’s psychological wounds.
The Miyagi city of Tome is inviting families from of the devastated neighboring town of Minamisanriku to move there and enroll their children in schools. Many children in other devastated areas are expected to study in schools in nearby municipalities or in other prefectures. The central government and local governments across the nation must do all they can to help the children affected by the disaster, including streamlining procedures for their transfer to schools outside their municipalities, reducing tuition fees, dispatching teachers to affected areas as needed, and helping those who are traumatized.
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