My mission to communicate the dark side of extracurricular club activities

The following article is the outline of the interview of Dr. Ryo Uchida posted on the Chunichi Shimbun on September 15, 2017.
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Ryo Uchida, Associate Professor, Nagoya University

My mission to communicate the dark side of extracurricular club activities

A Japanese researcher with blond hair has published a new book, “Black after-school club activities”. It may be a challenge against the education community and society. Dr. Ryo Uchida, Associate Professor at Nagoya University, who has carried out studies on the prevention of children’s injuries in judo and other school activities, is now focusing on teachers under heavy pressure of coaching club activities. He has dyed his hair blond to draw people’s attention to the subject of his study. The title of the book is stimulating, but it is the subtitle that reflects the heart of the author.

Interviewer: The title of your new book “Black after-school club activities” is quite provocative, isn’t it?

Dr. Uchida: I wanted to add a question mark at the end of the title, as “Black after-school club activities?”, because I hesitated to declare that all school club activities were black. We know that not all club activities in school operate that way. However, Mr. Otake, the editor of Toyokan Publishing and the original creator of the title, said if you want to draw people’s attention to change the world, a more stimulating title is more effective, and I agreed. But I added a subtitle, “Face the suffering of children and teachers”. It is here that I focused my thoughts.

Dr. Uchida: I have been investigating children’s injuries including those in judo. Since 1983 more than 120 children have died due to judo injuries in classes and after-school activities. Many of those were first-year beginner students and received Osotogari, a technique with which one may easily hit their head against the mat. If people are aware of the risks and cautions to take, many injuries will be prevented. But even though I brought it up, the messages had not reached schools, and similar injuries were repeated. It was frustrating.

Dr. Uchida: To protect children from injuries we need to have school teachers on our side. As I examined the issues at the clubs from teachers’ viewpoint, it became clear that teachers were hard-pressed with heavy work coaching after-school clubs.

Interviewer: In the book you indicated the immense amount of pressure on junior high/high school teachers to manage club activities.

Dr. Uchida: Since after-school club activities are outside the school curriculum, teachers have no obligation to coach. There is no teacher training course in collages on how to instruct club activities. Yet many school teachers are practically forced to coach sports that they had never played before in after-school clubs. There is no overtime payment for coaching clubs and only a small compensation is paid for instructing on weekends.

Dr. Uchida: The time teachers spend on club activities has been expanding as junior high/high school students’ interest in clubs escalated. One of the reasons is the education reform in the 80’s, where non-academic activities were stressed for student evaluation. Students and teachers both aim at victories in competitions, and parents endorse teachers to work hard for these clubs. Everyone is caught up in after-school clubs. Banners and trophies are displayed to show good results while mass media covers schools and students with outstanding performances. Schools become training centers for athletes while clubs present such shows.

Dr. Uchida: People excited with emotional drama in the performance of students are an additional element causing zealousness in club activities. I read an article praising a high school baseball athlete playing a game with a fractured hand. Can we call this a touching story when a growing youth has been abused? Stirring performances conceal problems, and moving stories reproduce injuries, that’s what I believe.

Interviewer: During these “black after-school club activities”, many students have died due to injuries they have received.

Dr. Uchida: According to the data received by the Ministry of Education and Science, about 1/3 of corporal punishment cases they identified in 2015 occurred during after-school club activities. Unscientific instruction and violence is harbored in clubs. A symbolic example is the case of Kenta Kudo, a member of the kendo club at a high school in Oita Prefecture.

Dr. Uchida: Kenta died of a heatstroke he suffered during practice of the kendo club in August 2009. He had appealed to the teacher that he was exhausted but was not allowed to rest and had to continue practice in the heated hall wearing a heavy protective gear. Moreover the teacher kicked him and slapped his face with his hand. Kenta’s family tried to bring criminal charges against the teacher, but the case was dismissed. However the civil trial is ongoing.

Interviewer: How can we reform after-school club activities?

Dr. Uchida: We tend to focus on sports clubs but the problem of long hours of activities have also troubled brass-band clubs and chorus clubs among others. This problem can only be solved by limiting the hours of club activities, for example to three days a week. Frequency of participation in competition may be reduced to depart from a win-at-all-cost attitude.

Dr. Uchida: While clubs in schools provide a place for students to enjoy themselves, reduction of long hours of work and heavy responsibilities imposed on teachers are an urgent task to deal with. Society as a whole must depart from the mindset that “long hours of work and practice is a good thing.”

The original article was written by Akiko Hosokawa.


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