Students Bring Rural Recovery
Nov. 11, 2016
As Japan’s rural population continues to decline, one region on the Sea of Japan coast is using education to bring about a recovery. Fewer than 700,000 people live in Shimane prefecture, down by a quarter since the 1950s, but a small but significant segment of the population is bucking the trend.
For the first time in 26 years, the number of high school students has increased, with the education ministry reporting a gain of about 170 students this fiscal year. A major reason is a local initiative called the "Study in Shimane Program", which actively recruits teenagers from other prefectures.
Events are held outside Shimane in a bid to attract students. Staff at the information sessions explain the merits of attending high school in Shimane to prospective parents.
Shimane’s Chuo High School has a growing number of young people studying under the program. About 30 per cent of the 250-strong student body comes from outside the prefecture. The school in Kawamoto has developed a system to accept students, with generous support from local government.
A dormitory housed at an old elementary school cost the town about $200,000 thousand dollars to renovate, and it is now home to 35 high school students. "I love this atmosphere,” says a student from Kanagawa prefecture. The monthly boarding fee is about 300 dollars per student, including healthy meals and utilities.
Cram schools have also been invited by local officials to improve students' scholastic abilities. Students can take Tokyo cram school classes online while teachers stationed in Shimane are on hand to answer questions.
The program also offers a cultural enrichment element that highlights local traditions. Students are encouraged to take part in Chuo High School’s annual culture festival, including playing the wadaiko drum. “I'm so glad to be able to experience traditional performing arts that I had no knowledge of,” says a participant from Nara prefecture.
"I feel the students are leading a warm and friendly life here," says a student guardian who helps young people find their way in the new school environment. Five years ago, there were just six students at the school from outside the prefecture...now there are 75.
Shimane officials are working to attract more students, and they hope a catalogue they have created will support that goal. The booklet summarizes the characteristics of 19 local high schools and contains information about home study support, recommended club activities and the benefits of each school.
About 1,000 catalogues have been distributed, leading to an increasing number of inquiries. The Study in Shimane Program is being introduced in various regions and this year, local officials are planning to hold seven information sessions around Japan.
"I hope more parents will decide to educate and raise their children in Shimane," says Shimane prefecture staffer Yurie Uno. "There is still much that needs to be disseminated about our schools. We hope to continue advancing various measures."
The study program that initially began as a measure to stem population decline appears to have achieved early success. Officials with Shimane’s local governments and high schools say they will continue efforts to bring in more students.
Newsroom Tokyo anchor Aki Shibuya was joined in the studio by NHK World’s Akihide Nishibayashi, who is based in Shimane’s capital city Matsue.
Shibuya: Akihide, thank you for coming in. According to your report, the population decline in Shimane prefecture seems to have become a serious problem.
Nishibayashi: There is a real sense of crisis. If things go on as they are, towns will disappear entirely. Places without schools are at particular risk. That's why the Study in Shimane Program was set up.
Shibuya: What brings students from other parts of Japan to Shimane? What's the draw?
Nishibayashi: I talked to a lot of young people who were interested in things unavailable to them in urban areas, such as learning about farming and fisheries. It seems that young people’s interests have broadened. In the past, most of them wanted to move to the cities to get an education and a good job. However, they say that's not the only way to go. Okidouzen High School is one of the schools in the Study in Shimane Program. It's on an island in the Sea of Japan, surrounded by nature. The students can take subjects like traditional agriculture. Forty percent of them are from outside the prefecture.
Shibuya: The Study in Shimane Program so far seems successful. But will this lead to an increase in Shimane's population?
Nishibayashi: I think there are two challenges. The first is to make sure it doesn't end up as a fleeting trend. Other prefectures are also starting to compete for students. I believe that Shimane officials will have to do more to make their schools attractive to students outside the prefecture.
Shibuya: What's the other challenge?
Nishibayashi: Students are encouraged to stay in Shimane after graduation...or to return if they choose to go to a university outside the prefecture. To do that, I think officials will have to make sure there are enough jobs, and convince them that Shimane is a good place to live.