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Editorial: As colleges start back, students need support at this difficult time

  • September 28, 2020
  • , The Asahi Shimbun , 2:18 p.m.
  • English Press

Practically all of Japan’s universities, junior colleges and technical colleges are expected to resume on-campus classes from this school year’s second term, which typically starts in September or October.


The COVID-19 pandemic has forced the universities and colleges to hold most of their classes online for as long as half a year.

Japan’s school year starts in April and ends in March.


Not that all classes will be operating as usual. 


Most of the universities and colleges will be combining face-to-face classes to be taught on campus with remote classes to be given online. Education ministry figures show one-third of the universities and colleges will be providing fewer face-to-face classes than their remote counterparts.


One survey has provided worrying results.


The survey was conducted this past summer of about 9,000 students by the National Federation of University Cooperative Associations. Asked about their physical and mental conditions, some 4,000 respondents said they seldom feel motivated, with another 4,000 or so saying they feel stressed (multiple answers allowed).


Many respondents complained in their free-text answers that they don’t understand why university students alone should be encouraged to stay home when elementary, junior high and senior high school students are attending classes as usual. In addition, they cited the fact that travelers are even enjoying trips under the government’s tourism campaign.


University students tend to engage in a broad range of activities. They also have frequent opportunities to attend gatherings that involve drinking. And they come under heavy fire when they happen to set off a group infection.


University authorities are therefore cautious about normalizing campus life, partly also under pressure from society at large. It is understandable that students have doubts about that trend and stance, feeling discontented.


Students, and particularly those in science and practical training majors, are also unhappy that they are being called on to pay tuition, facilities and equipment fees and other charges just like in other years.


More than a few students are weighing the option of taking a leave from, or quitting, their universities, all the more because they are harder up for money due to fewer opportunities for working part time, sources said.


The government has granted 100,000 yen to 200,000 yen ($947 to $1,894) in relief payments to cash-strapped students. Many universities have also taken steps to address the issue, including by setting up their own relief payment systems and mental health counseling services.


Society, however, has seldom paid enough attention to the tough circumstances surrounding university students, since the coronavirus crisis has been affecting all other walks of life.


Some of the problems could be resolved when face-to-face classes are resumed. Campus life, however, is unlikely to return completely to its previous state any time soon. The state of the economy is not likely to recover immediately, either.


The government should study the reality of students and prepare for problems that have yet to arise in working out necessary assistance measures for them.


It is heartening to learn that some students are setting out on their own to break out of their plight.


Yujiro Tatsuno of Kochi University and his colleagues, for example, worked to set up a project for linking students in need of an income with farmers in need of workers.


The program was initially aimed at proposing jobs with low risk of COVID-19 infection. It turned out, once the project was under way, that students obtained emotional support from interactions with farmers.


Students across Japan, among other things, are also providing online counseling services to their juniors who are new in their universities. Such activities work effectively where counseling services of the universities don’t, because students are emotionally close to each other and find it easier to lay bare their feelings to their fellow students.


Universities and the regional communities that host them should back up attempts to turn the coronavirus crisis into an opportunity for brushing up skills to overcome difficulties.

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