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Editorial: Fairness a top priority for college entrance exams amid pandemic

  • June 8, 2020
  • , The Mainichi
  • English Press

As the novel coronavirus pandemic is affecting various aspects of people’s lives, concerns are being raised over its impact on college admission exams.


Progress on the high school curriculum varies among schools and regions due to differences in the implementation of school closures to prevent the spread of the virus. To put it simply, education levels are becoming uneven, threatening the fairness of university entrance exams, the most crucial element of these tests.


In some regions including the Tokyo metropolitan area, schools were closed for as long as three months, while institutions in other areas were shut down for less than two months. During the closures, some high schools conducted online classes similar to conventional ones, but some schools ended up only distributing printouts to students.


At schools that send many graduates to highly competitive colleges, including private schools offering a six-year integrated curriculum from junior high through high school, students have already finished the three-year high school curriculum by the end of their second year in secondary school. Some people point out that pupils at these schools, as well as high school graduates who are taking a second shot at the exams after failing to get into their preferred university the first time ’round, would have an advantage over students at other schools.


Many third-year high school students looking to take the exams next spring are voicing concerns over whether they can make up for study time lost to the pandemic. Authorities are urged to swiftly present countermeasures to ease their worries.


Alarmed by the situation, the National Association of Upper Secondary School Principals is currently conducting a questionnaire in high schools over the issue.


The survey asks schools about their requests on a number of measures. These include pushing back the entrance exams across the board, including the Common Test for University Admissions; limiting the scope of studies from which entrance exam questions are prepared; and lengthening the period between the Common Test and additional, institution-specific exams depending on the school closure situation going forward. All these measures need to be taken.


Based on the results of the survey and other factors, the education ministry is planning to announce exam guidelines by the end of June for next spring’s entrance exams.


It is feared that a second wave of coronavirus infections could hit some regions in Japan, and even coincide with the entrance exam season. Government and education authorities must make preparations to allow for flexible decisions.


The filing of applications for the types of admission systems based on the assessment of various skills or school recommendations are scheduled to start this coming fall. However, numerous sporting and cultural events as well as certification tests have been cancelled one after another due to the outbreak. The results of those events and tests are subject to evaluation under those selection systems. The education ministry has urged universities to devise alternative selection methods, such as having applicants submit videos of them practicing their skills.


With regard to high school entrance exams, the government has asked local bodies to take such steps as matching the scope of exams to the progress of studies at local junior high schools. We hope that careful selection of successful applicants will be carried out in consideration of the circumstances faced by exam takers.


Students currently in their third year at high school will be the first batch of applicants sitting for the new standardized university entrance exams. They were already at the mercy of the government’s policy U-turn over the new system, in which the introduction of privately run English tests plus written sections in the Japanese language and math exams were deferred at the last minute, though they were supposed to be the two main pillars of the new admission system.


The outcome of entrance exams greatly affects one’s course in life. It is the government’s responsibility to deal with the issue with consideration for the fairness of those exams.

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