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September 13, 2005

Lowering the Education Ceiling

It is a little-known fact (at least, I didn't know it) that since the Meiji Era (1868-1912) there has been a government ordinance that school classroom ceilings must be at least "ichijoh" (a traditional measurement of about 3m) high. That is now set to change, following recommendations last week by an education ministry research council, according to The council reported to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport that the Building Standards Act should be revised, and a revision of the ordinace is planned within the year. The change, after over a century of enforcement, came about largely due to the persistent efforts of Soukashi City in Saitama Prefecture.

Following the 1995 Kobe Earthquake, the city looked into the earthquake resistance of its 33 elementary and junior high schools. The majority have been renovated over the intervening years, but budget restrictions have left six schools still in need of work. The city applied for special deregulatory zone status last year to allow it to have 2.7m-high ceilings, which would lead to a 1.5% cost saving of the estimated ¥3 billion per school. In its application, the city cited examples of schools overseas with lower ceilings. But the transport ministry refused, saying there was no research to disprove any adverse effects on student well-being. The city persisted, applying three times but was refused each time. Finally, the ministry agreed to accept any findings by the education ministry research council. The result is a change that will affect schools not only in Sokashi but nationwide.

The ordinance was created in 1882, and survived revisions to the Building Standards Act in 1950, largely due to concerns about air circulation given the large numbers of students in classerooms. But the change is a logical result of the declining birthrate and reducing class sizes. In their study, council researchers asked students how they felt in classrooms with varying ceiling heights, from 2.4m to 3m high. There were only minor differences between ceilings of 2.7m and 3m, with students saying they even felt more relaxed with the lower height.
Article in Japanese
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