The closure of schools, a measure implemented to combat the spread of the new coronavirus, has become prolonged. This poses a challenge as to how to support children’s study at home.
Almost all elementary, junior high and high schools were closed in March. Nonetheless, infections with the virus spread further, and only 36% of public schools were able to resume classes in April when the new school year started. As the government has expanded its declaration of a state of emergency to cover the entire nation, only 7% of schools were offering classes as of Wednesday.
According to a survey conducted by a private education service company on March 20 on parents of fourth to sixth graders at elementary school, 87% said their children were studying at home. However, the percentage dropped to 75% on April 3. This result indicates that more and more children are finding it difficult to maintain a steady learning pace.
With the start of a new school year this month, students are supposed to be studying new things. Some students will be taking subjects they have never studied before. As the start of a new school year can also be described as a period when it is easy for many children to stumble, it is hoped that every possible measure will be extended to students to support their learning.
It is important for schools to maintain contact with their students. Teachers can call them to answer any questions students may have about their studies. They can also collect printouts of homework assignments, and make corrections before sending them back. Schools are urged to make efforts to keep students motivated.
If schools aim to create something close to a physical classroom, it is ideal for teachers and their students’ homes to be connected via the internet to conduct interactive classes. However, only 5% of boards of education have adopted this approach, because many schools are not fully prepared and teachers do not have expertise in such classes.
The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has set up a special website through which visitors can access video clips of classes on different subjects. Some private entities provide practice problems online for students to work on. It is hoped that schools choose appropriate services among those available and encourage their students to use them.
When using online services, it is important to pay attention to the safety of the internet environment. Classi Corp., a provider of educational materials online for high school students, has been hit by unauthorized access. All possible measures should be taken to ensure online security.
It is essential to pay careful attention to households that are not sufficiently equipped for such studies. Schools are urged to take steps on behalf of such households by, for example, lending tablets and network devices to access the internet.
The Yokohama Board of Education has started broadcasting video clips of classes with the cooperation of a local TV station. These clips — available for first-grade elementary school students through third-year junior high school students, with each running for up to about 15 minutes — are broadcast in different time slots for different grade levels. This is surely an effective approach, as it allows students to study as long as they have a TV at home.
When schools reopen in the future, more detailed guidance than ever will be needed to help students catch up with their learning. Boards of education should begin preparations now for schools to reopen by, for example, asking retired teachers for their cooperation.
— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 26, 2020.