Monday, March 22, 2010

End of an Era

The Japanese school year is in its last weeks and my schools are holding graduation ceremonies. I teach mostly elementary schools so it’s no big show by any means, but it’s not the show I wish to blog about today. 2 of my elementary schools are closing this year due to budget constraints and their extremely small size. I’ve heard talk that Sado’s government is set to close almost half of the island’s schools over the next 10 years due to such factors. These 2 schools have only 12 and 24 kids total from grades 1 -6. It is not hard to see why employing 9 staff members to teach 12 kids is a bit troubling to a budget committee, but I can’t help but lament the loss of these 100 + year old institutions. These schools pair the classes of 1st/2nd, 3rd/4th, 5th/6th so they never risk having a class of 1. One of my schools has 1 1st grader and 1 2nd grader (that’s right, a class of 2!) so when the 2nd grader has to take 2nd year math, the 1st grader has another class separate from her. You could say this seems quite lonely, but think of the personal interaction. They are basically getting private tutoring and coming to know their teachers on a much deeper level than most students ever will. These kids know each teacher and each student intimately. They eat lunch in one room and clean the school together each day. Both of these schools were such happy places that almost seemed like large multigenerational homes. The 6th graders played with the 1st graders, the schools did group activities across grade levels, and they simply had a quaint atmosphere to them. The kids will probably be happier going to a larger school with more friends and more opportunities to interact, but something is being lost here. I wonder what kind of perspective is being lost as the modern world herds us to bigger cities with larger schools and bigger offices. I wonder how these kids will be different in the future thanks to the very personal nature of their primary education. Will they value personal interaction more? Will they wonder why some people only look inside their set group for friends? As these schools close, so does the opportunity to be a part of something very special and very personal. I’m just glad that all the kids and teachers seem to realize that.

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