Oddly enough - Quake safety shaky

Any teachers frustrated by needless local authority bureaucracy or secrecy should spare a thought for their colleagues in Japan.

In the land of the rising sun, obstruction from local administrators can amount to more than just an annoying hindrance - it can be a matter of life and death.

Its education ministry estimates that as many as 10,000 primary and middle-school buildings could collapse if another large earthquake hits the country. So it has asked all local councils to release the results of earthquake resistance checks on their schools.

Worryingly, a survey by the Tokyo-based Daily Yomiuri last week revealed that only 40 per cent had done so.

Some authorities told the newspaper they were unable to afford the necessary safety improvements and were concerned that releasing information on the schools' seismic resistance would cause public anxiety.

Quite how those worries are supposed to be eased by not saying anything at all is not explained.

It has certainly not eased the fears of the National Congress of Parents and Teachers Association of Japan, which says the lack of safety information is a problem.

"The municipalities must show us information on possible dangers and their future plans for reinforcing school buildings, and also accelerate their efforts to handle the reinforcement work," a congress official said.

And they are unlikely to have been reassured by some of the stop-gap solutions. At a primary in Hyogo - which suffered serious damage in the great earthquake of January 17, 1995 - a gymnasium has been deemed to be "highly vulnerable".

So close it down, then? No. Teachers have merely been told to limit its use.

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