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Friday, Oct. 7, 2005

Osaka elementary schools hold record for violence, survey shows

Staff writer

OSAKA -- Osaka Prefecture recorded more violent outbursts by public elementary school pupils than anywhere else in the nation last year, according the results of an education ministry survey released late last month.

Elementary schools in the prefecture reported 320 incidents of violence during the 2004 school year, which ended March 31, up 77 from the previous year, the survey showed. Overall, a record high 1,890 violent acts were reported nationwide, the poll found.

Tetsuya Mizumoto, an Osaka Prefecture education official, said the violence was caused by the students' inability to communicate their thoughts and feelings properly.

"The children have poor verbal communication skills, and resort to physical force to make a point, which can lead to fights with other students or teachers," he said.

He also questioned whether the survey by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, which is based on official reports from prefectural boards of education, reflects the true status of elementary school violence.

"According to the survey, elementary schools in Tokyo had only 43 outbreaks of violence in 2004," Mizumoto said. "Since there are about 1,000 (public) elementary schools in Osaka, and probably as many or more in Tokyo, you have to wonder if Tokyo isn't underreporting the problem."

In their response to parental and media inquiries about the survey results, prefectural education officials also cast blame for the violence on two recent trends.

First, they said, has been the increase in the number of pupils who use anonymous Internet chat sites to gossip about, and bully, fellow classmates.

The bullied victim has no way of knowing who is spreading the rumors on the Internet, and feels even more helpless and frustrated than might otherwise be the case, leading to random violence when at school.

The second cause is the feelings of alienation being experienced by kids who are transferred from other schools, especially to those in Osaka, according to the officials. Over the past two years, there has been a something of an urban housing boom.

A report by the Osaka Chamber of Commerce and Industry released late last month showed that new housing construction in the Kansai region in the March-August period was up an average of 16 percent year-on-year.

Families with young children have moved into the city to take advantage of the new housing opportunities, but their children often have trouble adjusting from a suburban elementary school to an urban one, prefectural officials said.

To deal with the problem, Osaka Prefecture has promised to increase the number of professional school counselors. Mizumoto said that area university students majoring in psychology and interested in volunteering their time will also be dispatched to work with problem students.

He added that the prefectural board of education has received calls from concerned parents, but most callers expressed disbelief that the situation at local elementary schools is so bad.

Other parents, however, say they are not surprised by the survey's results.

Sumiko Masuda is a 34-year-old part-time English teacher now living in Nara. She and her husband moved there last year with her son, who is now in the second grade, partially because of what she maintained was the unhealthy atmosphere of Osaka schools.

"My son didn't have problems with bullies. But whenever I visited his school, many of the children seemed aggressive," she said. "I felt the teachers didn't know how to handle the kids and didn't really care about discipline or serious study."

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