Photo/IllutrationAn accordion curtain serves as a partition at a community center in quake-stricken Abira, Hokkaido, where students from Hayakita Junior High School are having to share space for classes. Long tables are used for two students. There are no lockers to store their belongings. (Nobuhiro Shirai)

ABIRA, Hokkaido--Just an accordion curtain separates makeshift classes at a community center here following a deadly earthquake in September, a harsh lesson in a lack of privacy for third-graders of Hayakita Junior High School.

On a typical day, students of Class B on one side of the partition in the conference room might be deeply engrossed in their studies. On the other, the 24 students in Class A might be singing songs in English as part of their language course. Inevitably, the sounds of their voices permeate the other class, disrupting students' concentration.

The students were forced to attend classes elsewhere after their school building was deemed to be possibly unsafe during an emergency check after the earthquake, which struck southwestern Hokkaido on Sept. 6 and had a maximum intensity of 7 on the Japanese scale.

The walls of the gymnasium buckled, as did the floor of a laboratory.

A temporary school building is scheduled for completion as early as late December.

The community center doubles as an evacuation center.

Two classes were set up for third graders in the shared space measuring 145 square meters in total.

Sho Suzuki, 14, said: “The noise from the next classroom used to get on my nerves, but I'm gradually getting used to it. I desperately want to go back to my old school.”

Music and physical education classes for third-graders are held at Hayakita Elementary School, located 300 meters or so from the junior high school.

Kohei Takahashi, a 25-year-old teacher who is in charge of the third-graders, noted that some students are still living as evacuees.

"They're under considerable stress living outside their normal environment, and I just pray their lives return to normal as soon as possible," Takahashi said.

Although nearby Oiwake Elementary School was structurally undamaged in the quake, the 111 pupils are not permitted to enter as the safety of its grounds remains a possible issue.

For this reason, the children take their classes using music and art classrooms in neighboring Oiwake Junior High School.

Despite the setbacks and inconveniences, the authorities running the elementary and junior high schools are determined to ensure that the children's learning environment is not disrupted.

Some of the junior high school teachers involved in science and gymnasium classes are helping out at the elementary school.

Koji Nagataki, 48, vice principal of the junior high school, said the students warmly welcomed the elementary school pupils.

"I'm just sorry they have to study in such confined surroundings," he said. "I really appreciate what they are putting up with."

As of late Nov. 5, 155 residents were still living in evacuation centers in the towns of Atsuma, Mukawa and Abira, and the city of Kita-Hiroshima.

All three towns were badly damaged in the quake, which left 41 people dead.

Officials said 130 temporary dwellings were completed Nov. 1, and evacuees have already moved in. A further 93 are due to be finished by the end of this month.