With the effects of the coronavirus continuing, online teaching is now the primary method of instruction at many universities in Japan. Students have limited access to their campuses, and lack freedom in their lives at university.
A survey by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sport, Science and Technology found that as of July 1, over 20% of universities in Japan were conducting all of their lessons online. Another 60% also incorporated face-to-face instruction, but there were quite a few universities that limited the scope of in-person teaching to classes involving hands-on experiments.
Since Japan is now seeing a resurgence in coronavirus infections, many institutions have been indicating that lessons in the latter half of the academic year from autumn will be held online in principle.
There have been cases in which students’ use of campus facilities has been limited, and where they have not been able to get involved in student circles. They are voicing their discontent.
Most elementary, junior high, and high schools, which suspended lessons for a long period, had welcomed children back to school by June at the latest. But there are circumstances behind the different response taken by universities.
University campuses are filled with many students, and it is not uncommon for several hundred students to be crammed into a large lecture hall all at the same time. Students often mingle with each other, including during drinking parties, and each person has a wide sphere of activities. It can be said that there is a greater risk of widespread transmission compared to at elementary, junior high, and high schools.
However, the normal way to be a college student is to engage in face-to-face discussion with lecturers and friends, and acquire knowledge in their field of study. At universities specializing in arts, in particular, a high level of practical experience is required. Activities in various circles and plentiful exchange is an important part of character-building, preparing for their entry into society as adults.
Universities play a large role in human resource development. If they cannot properly fulfill that role, then the justification for their existence will likely come into question.
Last month the education ministry notified universities of points to pay attention to when holding lectures from this autumn onwards, based on the standards for establishing a university which set minimum requirements to ensure quality of education. Universities have been asked to consider holding face-to-face lectures while taking preventive measures against infection, and if that is difficult, to contemplate online teaching.
With no end to the COVID-19 pandemic in sight, universities need to deeply probe how they should operate from a long-term perspective, to enable the cultivation of human resources while preventing the spread of the virus.
Of particular concern is the possibility that the meaning of studying at university could be lost for students, resulting in them abandoning academic learning. Measures are needed to avoid dulling their desire for education, while ensuring their health.