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Some Japan kids in poverty to get laptops to access online resources amid school closures

A child whose school is closed due to the new coronavirus speaks with participants on the "Katariba Online" video chat service at home in the city of Tsukuba, Ibaraki Prefecture, on March 11, 2020. (Mainichi/Shuji Ozaki)

TOKYO -- A nonprofit organization will lend laptops and Wi-Fi devices to 10 households below the poverty line to allow their children to access video chat rooms for students at home from school during the temporary closures due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Katariba, which supports education in Japan's disaster-hit areas, launched the video chat service "Katariba Online" on March 4, to offer children stuck at home during the closures a place to socialize and ease their stress. The organization decided to lend the tools to access the service to some children who don't have a computer at home and receive government assistance to go to school.

The service has two, 30-minute meeting times per day, one from 9:30 a.m. and one from 4:00 p.m. The children use the time to share their daily schedules and report their activities. Users can chat with staff members during the day between the meetings, and also join online classes in English conversation and yoga. More than 400 users are currently signed up.

To borrow one of the 10 laptops set aside for low-income households, a child must promise to participate in both the morning and afternoon meetings at least twice a week, and they and their parent or guardian must take an internet safety training course before getting the computer. If the number of applications exceeds availability, Katariba may implement a selection process or stop accepting requests. The organization will also consider expanding the number of laptops depending on when schools reopen and its fundraising efforts.

According to a 2017 Tokyo Metropolitan Government survey on the conditions of children, among families in poverty, about 40% of respondents said that they don't have a computer with internet access at home. The survey targeted children in the fifth grade of elementary school, the second grade of junior high school, and those aged 16 to 17.

Save the Children Japan, a public interest incorporated association, pointed out in a March 6 statement that educational support measures are needed to prevent a gap opening up between children with and without access to online resources during the school closures.

(Japanese original by Shuji Ozaki, Tokyo Local News Group)

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