Survival knowledge: Fourth-graders discuss the health effects of radiation exposure at Akagi Elementary School in Koriyama, Fukushima Prefecture, on Feb. 21. | MIZUHO AOKI PHOTOS
Post-Fukushima radiation education for children applies simple message
University student Daiki Kandatsu explains the difference between radiation and radioactivity to sixth-year elementary school students with the help of a poster, in Fukushima. (Mainichi)
Students studying infographics at Tokyo City University are applying their skills to teach elementary school pupils about radiation, and are hoping teachers will be able to use the materials to explain the topic in simple terms, even if they lack specialist knowledge.
During a lesson to pupils from Yuno Elementary School in Fukushima on Sept. 3, Daiki Kandatsu, a 20-year-old student in his third year at the university, spoke to the children in front of a poster containing an illustration of a light bulb.
"What if we compare radioactive materials to a light bulb? The light that comes from the bulb is radiation, and the ability to emit light is radioactivity. That's why it's correct for us to say, 'Radiation is emitted,' but not, 'Radioactivity is emitted.'"
To the children, light bulbs and nuclear radiation don't have much in common. But that was a point making the illustration in Kandatsu's talk titled "What is radiation?" easy to understand.
Kandatsu, who studies infographics at university, was not an expert on radiation himself, and he says he created the poster while learning about the issue "from square one." He also wanted to include information on the history of radiation's use, but he paid attention to how much the young children could take in, and decided to limit his talk to two points: the nature of radioactive materials, and how much radiation we are exposed to in our daily lives.
The light-bulb explanation went down well and Kandatsu heard the students saying, "I think I've got it!"
Education about radiation in Fukushima Prefecture is handled by teachers who received training from the prefectural and municipal education boards, with support from researchers who visit the prefecture from around the nation.
Yukiko Okada, an associate professor in the Atomic Energy Research Laboratory at Tokyo City University, has given over 30 lessons at elementary and junior high schools in Fukushima Prefecture since the 2012 academic year. Through those lessons, she felt the need for teaching materials that could explain radiation in simple terms.
It was around this time that she thought about putting up simple illustrations in school corridors and stairwells to explain radiation. She thought that giving children the chance to look over the information outside classes would deepen their understanding, and she asked Seita Koike, an associate professor specializing in information design at Tokyo City University, to help out.
Koike's research office had been involved in designing Yokohama bus maps, among various projects. Keeping visually impaired users in mind, he made the colors for different bus routes stand out, and increased the space between routes to make the maps more readable.
He stresses that in the latest designs for educational material on radiation, focus was placed on the perspective of users, rather than merely pasting information provided by the government and power companies.
The poster comparing radioactive material to light bulbs is on display in the gym of Yuno Elementary School, along with posters featuring other familiar items, such as curry and rice, and airplanes. The curry and rice poster was designed by a 21-year-old third-year student at the university. Using illustrations of vegetables and meat, it explains that those food products contain radiation in varying levels, saying, "Both food products and our bodies emit radiation." Children said the content was more interesting than what they learned during ordinary lessons.
"One problem with education from experts is the jargon, which is hard for kids to understand -- all those words flying about causes them to drift away from science. But with infographics, there are no such worries," Okada says.
The efforts of Tokyo City University students are due to be unveiled at an Atomic Energy Society meeting at the university next spring.
In 2008, curriculum guidelines for junior high school science education were revised to include lessons about the nature and use of radiation, and education on radiation began in the 2012 academic year. In November 2011, after the outbreak of the disaster at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 Nuclear Power Plant, the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology prepared three types of supplementary teaching materials for use in elementary, junior high and high schools. These materials are used throughout Japan.
At the same time, students in Fukushima Prefecture, where the nuclear disaster broke out, have to continually think about exposure to low-level radiation. To make sure students have correct knowledge about radiation and are equipped to make their own decisions, the prefecture is proceeding with its own education on radiation. The prefectural education board produces material for teachers to use, and study meetings are held for school teachers to boost their knowledge about radiation. This forms the basis for about two to three hours of teaching each year as part of class activities.
In December 2012, the Fukushima Municipal Board of Education compiled its own teaching materials, tailored to each school grade, on the grounds that there was a need to provide education corresponding to the situation in the city, where airborne radiation levels were higher than in other municipalities. Second-grade students learn about high radiation levels in ditches and pools of water, while fifth-year elementary school students learn about radioactive materials in food. Second-year junior high school children learn about the effects of radiation on the body.
During training sessions, the Fukushima Municipal Board of Education holds mock lessons to support teachers, but some educators who lack experience worry about teaching children about radiation.
"Sometimes I pretend to know the things I've often read in newspapers or seen on TV," confesses one female elementary school teacher. "I don't know how much is getting through."