"Sukusuku School" ~The After-school Project by collaboration between residents and local government~
Planning Section,Management and Planning Department,Edogawa City

The Problem

Edogawa City has a larger juvenile population — people 14 and under — than any other municipality in the Japanese capital of Tokyo.
The protection and sound upbringing of Edogawa’s many children have long been cherished ideals for its government and residents. In that spirit Edogawa City has implemented numerous policies for the sake of children, placing particular emphasis on their sound development. Due in part to those efforts, Edogawa is now highly regarded as a child-friendly community that is home to many children.
Here we describe one of the city’s initiatives for the healthy development of children, the Sukusuku School program. This is a completely new initiative devised and implemented by Edogawa City with the goal of eliminating obstacles to children’s sound growth.
The environment for children has changed greatly in Japan since the 1970s. To begin with, urbanization led to the spread of the nuclear family. That marked a significant change from the traditional Japanese family structure, in which three or more generations typically dwelt under the same roof. Further, women increasingly advanced into the workplace and the number of families with both parents working rose dramatically. These changes isolated children — among the most vulnerable members of society — and impeded their sound development. Specifically, they engendered two serious challenges.
The first was finding a place for children to go after school. The number of children returning to an empty home after school rose sharply, and providing them with a place to go became a national concern. In response Edogawa City, in accordance with national guidelines, set up “After School Clubs” to conduct learning and guidance activities after school; ultimately 65 such clubs were established. But these clubs had limited floor space, and each could accept only 40 or so children. There was therefore always a long waiting list of children unable to get a spot.
The second challenge was a decrease in children’s interaction with others. The sound growth of the individual takes place in the course of interaction with many different people. Particularly important is intergenerational communication. But the changing environment for children reduced their opportunities to interact with others. This became a grave problem, one that could not be solved by schools or After School Clubs alone, which after all are of limited diversity and bring together only small numbers of people. The recent rise of the Internet society has strengthened the sense of self even more and thus further undermined opportunities to interact with others.
As a way to solve both challenges simultaneously and foster children’s healthy development, Edogawa City launched the Sukusuku School initiative in partnership with local residents.

Solution and Key Benefits

 What is the initiative about? (the solution)
One of the greatest benefits of the Sukusuku School initiative has been a sheer expansion in capacity. The total floor space available for after-school activities for children rose seventy-fold from 10,000 square meters to 700,000 square meters. Similarly, the number of children enrolled rose ninefold from 3,000 to 27,000, which figure equals some 70% of all the elementary school children in Edogawa. These gains in capacity eliminated at a stroke the problem of long waiting lists of children that had previously been so intractable.
A second major benefit, being qualitative in nature, is not revealed in the numbers. Through various activities — learning to dance or play the game Othello, or even just chatting — Sukusuku Schools let children interact on a daily basis with people of all ages from the community. Interacting with so many different people will be of great significance in their future lives. At the same time, these daily activities nurture their bonds with and warm feelings for the community, a love of the place they call home. It is hardly too much to expect that ten or twenty years from now, having set out on their own path in life, they will return to their old community to provide guidance in turn to other children.
These were not the only benefits of the program. The adults involved, thanks to their increased opportunities to interact with children, have developed a strong conviction that it is the responsibility of the whole community to bring up the children who live there. They have also become committed to taking action themselves to make their community a better place. Seniors in particular have, through intergenerational contact with children, gained a sense of purpose in life, of being involved in society. The result is a more broad-based sense of community. For example, the Build a Safe, Secure Community Campaign, under which local residents take action themselves to eliminate crime, has swiftly taken root in local neighborhoods: today there are 440 volunteer crime prevention groups operating in Edogawa, with 33,000 members protecting local residents. These efforts, incidentally, have paid off handsomely, reducing the number of crimes committed within the city limits by some 40%.
In a recent opinion survey of city residents, over 50% expressed the intent to participate in community activities. That is a high number indeed, and the city hopes to parlay at least some of their intentions into action.

Actors and Stakeholders

 Who proposed the solution, who implemented it and who were the stakeholders?
The program’s guiding principle was articulated at the outset by the mayor himself, Masami Tada, the driving force behind it. He was inspired by the conviction that the most important thing for the growth of a child was extensive interaction with people.
Initially, the minds of those involved in designing the program were focused simply on establishing facilities to accept children. But Mayor Tada asserted, “While establishing facilities is important, it’s even more important to go a step further and create a mechanism at those facilities that allows children to interact extensively with other people. That will support their healthy development.” In stating that principle he set the direction for the whole project.
The people in charge of the administrative end at the outset, Director Shigehito Osada and Chief Takashi Goto, thought at first that the program’s greatest advantage would be the elimination of waiting lists. Eventually, though, they came around to Mayor Tada’s way of thinking. One of the program’s few supporters among school principals at the time was Principal Yukiyoshi Sato of Kamata Elementary School. With the cooperation of individuals like these the idea was gradually given concrete shape.
At the time Edogawa was in the process of crafting a long-term vision for the city. That vision, which defined the direction of municipal government for the next twenty years, was put together in 2002 by Edogawa City Council members, representatives from the community, academics, and others. The new long-term vision was utterly different from its predecessors. Instead of focusing on public investment, it envisaged enhancing Edogawa’s attractiveness as a community through a partnership between local residents and their government. The Sukusuku School concept conformed to that long-term plan, and its basic outlines were enshrined in it.
The program was successfully introduced on a pilot basis at Kamata Elementary School in April 2003, and it expanded to all elementary schools in the city by 2005. None of this would have been possible without Mayor Tada’s determined leadership. The Sukusuku School program was unprecedented. For the schools involved it was a source of endless anxiety: they felt uneasy entrusting their facilities to adults who were not teachers, and there was always the danger of an accident happening on the premises. Then there was the problem of jurisdictional barriers within the national government to overcome: After School Clubs fell under the purview of the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare, while schools were the responsibility of the Ministry of Education. In the face of these obstacles Mayor Tada and the responsible staff eagerly went around persuading principals, the municipal assembly, local residents, and national government ministries of the program’s advantages for children, citing its success at Kamata Elementary School and winning their support.

(a) Strategies

 Describe how and when the initiative was implemented by answering these questions
 a.      What were the strategies used to implement the initiative? In no more than 500 words, provide a summary of the main objectives and strategies of the initiative, how they were established and by whom.
Sukusuku Schools operate at all 73 elementary schools in Edogawa City on weekdays after classes and on Saturdays. Here children are free to play in the safety of the school grounds, or do their homework or whatever else they like. They can also take part in a tremendous range of activities with volunteers from the community: sports like baseball and soccer, for example, or traditional performing arts like Japanese drums and dancing, or arts and crafts. The objectives of the initiative are, as already stated, to provide all elementary school children in the city with a safe place to go after school, and to support their sound development by fostering interaction with children of other ages as well as many different grownups.
The Sukusuku School program is for children of elementary school age (6-12) who live in Edogawa City. Anyone can register simply by submitting an application form. For ordinary registrants the program is basically free, and children can come and go home as they like. Also available is a full-fledged childcare service, for which the charge is roughly $50 per month. At present 27,000 children, or 70% of the elementary school children in the city, are enrolled in the Sukusuku School program.
The program is run at each school by two parallel organizations: an administrative arm, consisting of a club manager, sub-managers, and playing partners; and a support arm known as the support center, made up of numerous supporters. The club manager, a member of the community, acts as coordinator, liaising between the elementary school, the community, and the Sukusuku School. Sub-managers and playing partners are professionals employed by the city who monitor children’s activities and ensure their safety. Supporters, all members of the community, interact with children on a daily basis and assist with a wide range of activities and hands-on experiences. Currently there are about 1,000 registered supporters. In addition there are some 16,000 registered volunteers, who do what they can when they have time available.
The club manager and the support center play the key roles in coordinating the Sukusuku School with the local community. They listen to each other’s views and make any necessary adjustments. They also seek out potential new supporters in the community. The Sukusuku School program is thus implemented in close coordination with local residents.

(b) Implementation

 b.      What were the key development and implementation steps and the chronology? No more than 500 words
The long-term vision for Edogawa City adopted in 2002 made an express commitment to pursuing municipal policy through a partnership between local citizens and their government. Dozens of discussion meetings were held with local residents to foster a more broad-based understanding of the principles of that vision. The concept of the Sukusuku School was explained at these meetings as well.
While the groundwork was thus being laid for the program, specific steps were taken to give it concrete shape. The idea of having local residents come to elementary schools after classes to keep an eye on children was unparalleled anywhere in Japan. Plans therefore called for the program to be phased in at all 73 schools in the city over a five-year period, and it was introduced on a pilot basis at a single elementary school in 2003. When it was actually implemented, however, it garnered a much more favorable response than expected and proved a great success. And so the very next year, 2004, it expanded to 39 schools, roughly half the elementary schools in the city, then in 2005 to all 73. Thanks to Mayor Tada’s strong leadership and the understanding and cooperation of the local community and the schools involved, what was in the original plan supposed to take five years ended up taking just two.
This unprecedented initiative by Edogawa City has attracted great interest throughout Japan and drawn observers from around the world. As of November 2010, 360 groups totaling 2,300 people have visited to observe the program firsthand. The Sukusuku School initiative has also earned high marks from the Japanese government. It became the model for the After School Kids Plan jointly launched by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare in 2007, and similar programs have since cropped up all over the country. As of 2010, three years later, such programs are being implemented at some 6,700 locations, and the number is still growing. And in 2010 the initiative won the grand prize, the Minister’s Award, in the Regional Development Awards administered by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications.

(c) Overcoming Obstacles

 c.      What were the main obstacles encountered? How were they overcome? No more than 500 words
There were two major obstacles to implementation of the Sukusuku School program. The first was gaining the understanding of parents, guardians, and local residents opposed to the idea. The Sukusuku School concept entailed a partnership between local citizens and the municipal government. Naturally, that made it essential to promote understanding of it among parents, guardians, and local citizens. To that end briefing sessions were held repeatedly at which the program was carefully explained. But sometimes people were not convinced. Views like “I’m too busy to help” and “Education is something that should be left entirely to the government” were common. In neighborhoods where such views predominated, the liaison people from Edogawa City kept on going back to explain to local representatives exactly what the municipality had in mind. Over the course of repeated meetings a personal rapport was established, and in the end cooperation was enlisted at all elementary schools. Today residents participate in the support centers that underpin the Sukusuku School program, and with their energy and dedication they play a vital role in running it.
The second obstacle was changing the mindset of school staff. Japanese schools are highly autonomous entities. Institutionally independent of the local government, they brook no outside interference in their teaching. And because they are responsible for protecting the safety of children, they are loath to let outsiders on the grounds. Many teachers were thus at first opposed to the Sukusuku School program with its idea of using elementary school facilities. They were uneasy about entrusting school facilities to adults who were not teachers, and feared that unprecedented problems could arise.
But the city patiently engaged in a dialog with teachers as it did with local residents, pointing out the program’s benefits for children, and thus ultimately won their support.
Today coordination between elementary schools and the Sukusuku School program has reached a new level. A system has been put in place for immediately notifying elementary school teachers of how their charges conduct themselves at Sukusuku School. That makes teachers aware of a side of their pupils not displayed in class, which information is highly useful in the course of day-to-day teaching.

(d) Use of Resources

 d.      What resources were used for the initiative and what were its key benefits? In no more than 500 words, specify what were the financial, technical and human resources’ costs associated with this initiative. Describe how resources were mobilized
The resources used for the Sukusuku School program are twofold. The first comprises the human resources available in the community, the second the city’s elementary schools. Because effective use was made of assets that already existed in Edogawa, virtually no new investment was required, and the program was implemented at remarkably low cost.
The first of these, the community’s stock of human resources, is difficult for governments to harness on their own. Any country or region has large numbers of people possessing skills adapted to living in that particular location. But schools and governments do not know where exactly those people are to be found, nor is it easy to coordinate such a diverse range of talent. Edogawa City therefore looked for members of the community willing to give their time for the sake of children and left the job of coordination to them. Those are the club managers already mentioned.
Club managers tell acquaintances about the program and sign up supporters. Enlisting their aid in integrating the Sukusuku School program into networks that already exist in the community has been vital to the program’s success.
If the aspects of the Sukusuku School program now conducted voluntarily by numerous members of the community were conducted by government employees instead, the cost would be exorbitant. In today’s difficult economic times such an arrangement would be out of the question. Besides, people living in the same neighborhood and seniors with their wealth of real-life experience are better equipped to deal with children. For these reasons the way the program is presently structured is the most efficient and rational approach.
It may seem that the Sukusuku School program shifts social costs to the local residents. But the people who participate feel that interacting with children gives their life extra meaning; they are not losing anything. Volunteers, children, parents and guardians, elementary schools, the local government — the Sukusuku School program is a win-win-win-win-win prospect for all.
The second type of resource is, again, the city’s elementary schools. The city has 73 elementary schools with an average area of 10,000 square meters, and opening their doors to local children when they are not in use for teaching purposes is a highly effective policy indeed. Procuring equivalent facilities elsewhere would require such massive investment that it would not even be practically possible. There are no comparable plots of land left anywhere in the whole city anyway, because Edogawa is so highly urbanized. In that regard too, the present approach is the optimum solution.

Sustainability and Transferability

  Is the initiative sustainable and transferable?
Today, because of the recession, Japan’s local governments find themselves in such straitened circumstances that they cannot afford to invest too much in new programs. Yet they must still constantly address the changing needs of the day.
Implementing the Sukusuku School program does not cost that much. Personnel costs, which with most projects are the biggest expense, have been kept to a minimum in that most of the people involved are volunteers. And there are no land-related costs at all, because existing elementary schools are used. That has made it possible to get this large-scale program up and running on just the amount needed to cover personnel expenses for a limited number of staff plus actual costs, and to sustain it despite today’s difficult financial circumstances.
The program’s sustainability has been further enhanced by the separation of the administrative and support arms already described. The administrative arm consists of a minimum complement of city staff plus the club manager, while volunteers are affiliated with the support arm. Thus volunteers are free to participate just when they want to, making it easy for people to volunteer. Imposing all the responsibility for running the program on volunteers would undermine its sustainability.
One distinguishing feature of the Sukusuku School program is the way it avoids excessive investment and effectively harnesses already available resources. Every community has its own pool of human resources and its own elementary schools. Thus any municipality can undertake such a program, as long as the local government carefully informs residents and teachers of the idea and purpose behind it and obtains broad-based support. Indeed, in Japan an initiative modeled on the Sukusuku School program, the After School Kids Plan, is being promoted by the national government and has been undertaken at numerous elementary schools.
All over the world, changes in the environment for children have been accelerating with the advance of globalization. Hence taking action to provide children with a safe place and foster their sound mental development has become more necessary than ever. The Sukusuku School program can be adapted to any circumstance.

Lessons Learned

 What are the impact of your initiative and the lessons learned?
We have learned three lessons from the Sukusuku School program.
First, we came to realize how wonderfully imaginative and creative children can be. Five years have passed since the program came in at all 73 elementary schools, and today each Sukusuku School has developed its own unique character thanks to the individual personalities of its children. Some Sukusuku Schools are heavily into sports, for example, while at others volunteer activities like picking up garbage are the big thing. The schools have become so distinctive because they are run flexibly in partnership with local residents, not uniformly by the municipal government. Each child is unique, and because of that the Sukusuku Schools continue to evolve daily beyond anything that we had imagined.
The second lesson learned was the importance of fostering the power of the community, which is what made possible this partnership between local citizens and their government. Edogawa City has for over forty years now carefully nurtured the power of the community. As a result many locals have come to feel that it is the responsibility of the whole community to bring up the children who live there. But most people today have such busy daily lives that it is difficult to get them involved in community activities without something special to motivate them. The Sukusuku School program proposed by Edogawa City provided such motivation and thus attracted the participation of a broad segment of the local population. Had it not been underpinned by the power of the community, the program could not have been implemented in such a short time. It thus served as a reminder of the importance of cultivating the power of the community.
The third lesson learned was the importance of partnerships between government and local residents. Children have in recent years found themselves in an increasingly complex environment, and there is only so much governments can do through schooling alone to protect them and ensure their sound development. But governments and local residents can, by working together and compensating for each other’s shortcomings, successfully promote children’s sound growth. Tapping people’s ideas and the power of the community makes it possible to provide a high level of service without spending a lot of money. The Sukusuku School program has strengthened the partnership between government and local residents, and by expanding that partnership to other areas of policy we hope to build a better community.

Contact Information

Institution Name:   Planning Section,Management and Planning Department,Edogawa City
Institution Type:   Government Agency  
Contact Person:   Yoshiaki Ishida
Title:   Director  
Telephone/ Fax:   +81-3-5662-6054 c/o Mr.Shiota
Institution's / Project's Website:   +81-3-3652-1109 c/o Mr.Shiota
E-mail:   hiroyuki-kimura@city.edogawa.tokyo.jp  
Address:   1-4-1 Chuo
Postal Code:   132-8501
City:   Edogawa-ku
State/Province:   Tokyo
Country:   Japan

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