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      It is said to be important to prepare for large disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis, but what kinds of concrete instruction and policies are actually being implemented at schools?  As a concept, disaster preparedness education involves learning about nature as well as connections with society and economics in order to understand disasters and then move toward action to prepare for them.  Thus, it offers an extremely “ESD-like” approach.  The Affiliated Elementary School of Miyagi University of Education, is promoting disaster prevention education as part of a unique regional approach called “Sendai Studies” that incorporates diverse points of view.

“Sendai Studies”
    From 2006, the Affiliated Elementary School of Miyagi University of Education has used the integrated studies period to introduce “Sendai Studies” to enable students to learn about the city of Sendai where they live and encourage the city’s development and sustainability by focusing on the four “key words” of “welfare,” “culture,” “environment,” and “disaster prevention.”  Within these studies, the school has helped students gain knowledge and skills concerning disasters from the point of view of disaster prevention and to think about the importance of their relationship with the community.
    This is because, when a disaster strikes, there are possibilities for public assistance, mutual assistance and self-assistance; just waiting for the arrival of public assistance from the government can put one’s life at risk.  First, one should help oneself, and then one should help others through mutual assistance if needed.  To do this, one needs to gain the capacity to understand the situations of each individual, make engaged decisions, and take action.

Sendai Studies

Investigation of Danger in One’s Own Home
    The third graders who began “Sendai Studies” in 2006 focused on family, community and school, and engaged in activities such as investigating the degree of danger in their own homes and creating a disaster prevention map during the integrated studies period.  This practice involved planned linkages with the subject area of social studies.
    Students learned about the damage caused by large-scale earthquakes in the past and experienced strong vibrations themselves in the earthquake simulation vehicle “Gurara.”  The topic “What if an earthquake affected your own home?” was presented, and students conducted a survey of the dangers to their own homes using GiD (a user-friendly interface for geometrical modeling).  Through indicating the furniture, windows and other items in their homes in the diagrams, the students were able to discover where dangers were lurking in the event of an earthquake.  Because there was much content students could not grasp in this research, students implemented the lesson with the cooperation of parents and guardians.  There were cases in which discussion among members of the household led to moving of furniture and cooking pots and was connected to action and change that included the whole family.  This also seemed connected to the result of increased household consciousness concerning disaster prevention.
    The capacity students gained in estimating earthquake-related dangers through this survey was next applied and expanded to the school and its surroundings, for which children created disaster prevention maps.  Use was made of students’ experience in social studies at the beginning of the third grade, during which they created maps of the school surroundings.  This time students engaged in the activity from the perspective of disaster prevention and said things like: “The wall on this block is dangerous,” and “This light post is dangerous.”  At this very same time, a field trip to the firehouse was organised during social studies time, and students’ learning was deepened by connecting with activities in the integrated studies period such as asking the question: “When an earthquake occurs, what kind of help do you provide?”

iExperience of 6.0 earthquake

Children make disaster prevention maps of the school surroundings

You Have To Consider That They Occur at Various Times
    In the third year of “Sendai Studies” in 2008, the fourth graders studied the reality of the damage caused by the May 1960 Sanriku Tsunami arising from the Chile Earthquake during the social studies unit “Life by the Sea.”  As part of this, the students participated in a lecture by a university expert who covered the mechanism of tsunamis.  In response to the students’ interest in earthquakes, the unit “Let’s Look at the Facts of the Iwate-Miyagi Inland Earthquake” concerning the June 2008 earthquake was created.  The students went to the area and heard from workers who experienced the earthquake, and the students learned the true reality of the earthquake that could not be communicated through television.  Children wrote down the following type of reflections.
    “Earthquakes cannot be stopped with people’s power, so I felt they were scary.  They might occur when we are in school and they occur at all kinds of times, so I thought we have to think about that.”
    “When the Iwate-Miyagi Inland Earthquake occurred, I was alone with my younger brother, so it was very scary.  I thought we needed to be prepared for an earthquake off the coast of Miyagi Prefecture.”
Learning from a professor who is an expert in tsunamis

A School Commute Disaster Prevention Map to Protect Your Life
    Based on the ideas of these children, the school held activities during the integrated studies period to enable children to think about “What I can do” in the event of an earthquake during school.
    Students used their experiences up to this point and thought about hidden dangers on their routes between their homes and school, investigated the earthquake plans of different means of transportation, and debated what concretely would be the best course of action in case of an earthquake.  Students then used these results to create disaster prevention maps of their commutes, including whom to contact in case of emergency, and accompanied by illustrations.  The maps were then laminated and put in their school backpacks, so that if an emergency were to occur, the children would be able to take care of themselves without becoming flustered.

Affiliated Elementary School of Miyagi University of Education: “Poplar Trees” (Fourth graders) “Let’s Think Ahead Before an Earthquake Occurs” School Commute Disaster Prevention Map

Aiming for Systematic Disaster Prevention Education
    Children commute to the school from all parts of Sendai City.  Through activities such as creating disaster prevention maps, children compiled information on the disaster prevention environment surrounding their own homes, and by sharing that information at school, students were able to understand the situation across the city of Sendai.  Compared to a public school, one felt the limitation of this private school’s weak connection with the neighbourhood in which it was located.  In contrast, however, one could see strengths of this in the context of the “Sendai Studies.”
    Furthermore, in 2008, out of a consciousness that students needed to move ahead step-by-step at a level matched to their stage of development, a basic plan for the school as a whole was created.  A curriculum was developed based on that, and through the cooperation with outside experts, systematic disaster prevention education covering all grades was established, with first and second graders being involved during the life skills time and third-graders and above mainly using the time from the integrated studies period.

  If one changes one’s perspective and takes a new approach to the disaster prevention drills that take place at every school, there is great potential for learning.  By linking these school drill activities with study in other subject areas, students’ experiences and the life around them will become connected, and sustainability will increase.  In order for children who are the next generation to gain abilities in responding to disasters (disaster prevention ability), it is important to have intentional, continuous, systematic disaster prevention education.

Thick iron bars and double-paned windows support the school

Integrated Studies Period 2008, Fourth grade (30 Hours)

Unit Aims
 Ability to Discover a Topic  The student is able to recognise issues concerning earthquake damage and come up with her/his own topic.
 Ability to Pursue a Topic  The student is able to investigate and gain basic knowledge of the damage that would occur in the case of a Miyagi earthquake or other large earthquake and apply the knowledge to the topic s/he has selected as well as think about methods to protect her/his own life based on the results obtained.
 Communication Ability As a result of experiential activities and connections with others, the student is able to gather information, cooperate with friends, and exchange opinions with others in order to think about the damage caused by natural disasters.
 Information Gathering Ability  The student is able to address her/his topic by effective methods such as hearing from experts, using the Internet, and interview surveys, and by applying a combination of methods appropriate to the conditions of a disaster.
 Ability to Disseminate Information The student is able to make use of experiences and knowledge of earthquake disasters and think about methods by which s/he can address them and communicate this knowledge effectively to others.

Allgnment of some items needs adjustment PDF