Tokyo teachers beset by `classroom chaos'

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The Independent Online
THE JAPANESE for teacher is sensei and, until recently, the word suggested far more than its English equivalent. Sensei is the honorific also used of physicians, professors and artists, implying wisdom, status and respect within the community.

But this week in Tokyo, Japan's teachers are meeting in an atmosphere of crisis, beset by tales of unruly and violent students, which have left them baffled and depressed.

Japanese schools always prided themselves on their discipline, but this week's conference of 16,000 sensei has been dominated by a new buzz phrase: "classroom chaos".

National anxiety was triggered in 1997 by series of terrible crimes perpetrated by children, the worst being the case of a 14-year-old boy who beheaded a 10-year-old. Now a milder contagion is reported to have spread to classrooms. The offences - fighting, fidgeting, chatting, scribbling on desks and refusing to listen - have shocked the Japanese.

The number of teachers with psychological disorders increased last year by 30 per cent and counselling services have been established for those under stress. The Ministry of Education has announced plans for 30,000 new teachers to add to the present total of 964,000, with the suggestion that they pair up to reduce disorder.