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News Navigator: Do Japan students have enough class time amid school closures over virus?

Children are seen studying on their own in a science room at Kitaurawa Elementary School in Saitama's Urawa Ward on March 2, 2020. The school suspended classes from March 2 to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus but is open for children whose parents can't be home due to work or other commitments. (Mainichi/Naoaki Hasegawa)

The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about school class hour shortages following Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's request for all elementary, junior high and high schools across the nation to temporarily close as part of measures against the spread of the new coronavirus.

Question: When were schools asked to shut down?

Answer: The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology notified local governments and other bodies across Japan on Feb. 28, asking schools to suspend classes "from March 2 until spring vacation." About 99% of such schools had closed as of March 4.

Q: When will schools resume classes?

A: Some local authorities had announced when schools will reopen, but it remains unclear when the education ministry will notify local governments across Japan to resume classes at its schools. Education minister Koichi Hagiuda told a press conference after a Cabinet meeting on March 13, "Based on the policy of the March 19 meeting of an expert government panel, we would like to consider a rough indication (of when to resume classes)."

Q: Can students move to the next grade or proceed to higher education following a shortage of class hours?

A: The standard class hours for each subject in elementary, junior high and high schools is set under the Ordinance for Enforcement of the School Education Act. For example, the yearly standard class hours for fourth grade is 980 hours (periods) for all subjects combined, and 245 hours for just the Japanese language. Based on this standard, teachers plan their syllabus and create timetables in advance.

Due to temporary school closures, classes are out for the remaining period of the third trimester. But along with their request to shut schools, the education ministry has asked educational institutions to respond flexibly, even if they cannot complete the standard class hours.

Q: How are schools responding?

A: Cases in which schools will base the students' grades on worksheets assigned as homework during the closure, or are planning to conduct make-up classes after the breaks are likely. Some schools use teaching materials released online by private entities. After an extended 10-day "Golden Week" holiday period to celebrate the 2019 imperial succession, some schools cut their summer vacations and other holidays short for more class hours. In the same way, some schools may also shorten holidays including summer vacation in the next academic year.

(Japanese original by Kenichi Mito, City News Department)

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