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Schools look to rebuild confidence

Class XII students at Tokyo’s Indian International School in Japan (IISJ) were 45 minutes into their English Board exam on March 11, when their hands started shaking violently.

india Updated: Mar 27, 2011 00:56 IST
Charu Sudan Kasturi

Class XII students at Tokyo’s Indian International School in Japan (IISJ) were 45 minutes into their English Board exam on March 11, when their hands started shaking violently.

Dropping their pens, they dove under their desks will fluffy, pillow-like shock absorbers all students in Japan are required to carry, before they were shepherded out on to the playground by teachers when the shaking increased in fury.

None of the about 400 students at the IISJ -- Japan’s first “Indian school,” set up in 2004 to cater to a growing Indian population in the country -- were injured physically.

But Japan’s worst disaster since the Second World War has left psychological scars that school Principal Nirmal Jain fears will take time to heal. “There is fear and shock among our students and parents,” said Jain, reached by HT in the US where she is temporarily staying with her daughter.

Most parents and students at the IISJ have returned to India, called back by families worried about radiation from the Fukushima plants and repeats of the giant March 11 quake – 9 on the Richter Scale. “Most Indians have come to Japan in recent years, and are relatively inexperienced in such disasters,” added Jain, living in Japan for 40 years.

The only other school – like the IISJ – catering principally to children of Indians in Japan is the Global Indian International School (GIIS).

“We are specially reorganizing Board examinations for these two schools. We are talking to the Indian embassy in Tokyo to decide feasible dates,” Vineet Joshi, chairman, Central Board of Secondary Education – to which both the schools are affiliated -- told HT.

But the bigger challenge for the schools may be to rebuild confidence among students aware of the possibility of such disasters recurring – Jain said she expects only 20 % of her students to return from India by the time the school reopens on April 4.

“Many of the students were crying at the time,” recalled IISJ math teacher SP Suresh from Tokyo. The power failure and damaged rail tracks meant the metro did not work for several hours after the quake, and damage to the roads rendered school buses unsafe too, said Jain.

Parents – who were asked to pick up their wards – had to walk miles to reach the school, and the IISJ teachers and Principal had to spend the night of March 11 with several students still in school. The last student left the school only after 10 the next morning.

The IISJ student population comprises of 95% Indians with local Japanese constituting the remaining 5%. Parents of the school’s students also reflect the character of the Indian population in Japan.

While the information technology sector – booming in India from the late 1990s – was the principal draw for Indians coming to Japan in the early part of the last decade, the country – and the IISJ as parents -- now has several Indian businessmen too.

“Living in Japan is about – among other things – living with earthquakes. I have witnessed the Kobe quake and others, and precautionary measures are inbuilt into the way we work and live. The school is well prepared,” said Jain. The Kobe earthquake in 1995 – measuring 7.2 on the Richter Scale – killed over 6000 people.

But the preparedness does not mitigate the disruption earthquakes like the March 11 monster bring in their wake.

Jain said her seventh-floor apartment in Tokyo was damaged so badly that it is hard to live there at present. She however clarified that she moved after the quake temporarily to the US to rest a fractured leg – suffered a week before the earthquake. “I did not run because of the earthquake,” she asserted.

Suresh, the math teacher at the IISJ, and other colleagues are trying to get the school ready once again for students to return to.

“The local authorities came here to check whether there were any cracks in the buildings or any risky damage caused by the earthquake. They found everything safe and fine,” Suresh, from Uttar Pradesh, said.

But what about the psychological scars? “They will take a few months to heal. We will call parents and students once they come back, and hold sessions with them,” said Jain.

“Earthquakes will happen again in Japan,” she said. “But the important thing we need to emphasize to the students… and parents… is that it will not be as bad every time.”