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Japanese children tiring of life at home amid virus-triggered school closures: survey

Masaki and Akemi Higashihara, both elementary school students, are seen playing cards at home while both their parents are out working, in Higashi Ward, Sapporo, on March 6, 2020. (Mainichi/Taichi Kaizuka)

TOKYO -- Roughly 30% of children stuck at home due to the nationwide closure of schools over the novel coronavirus outbreak said in a recent survey that they "want to go outside," indicating many students are becoming tired of being confined to their homes.

Save the Children Japan conducted the survey online and by mail in some areas between March 17 and 22, asking children whose schools were canceled following the government's abrupt closure request in late February about their concerns and how they were spending their time while schools were shut. The public interest incorporated association released the results of the survey on March 27.

Altogether, the association received 961 responses, mainly from those in early years of elementary school, across 37 of Japan's 47 prefectures. The oldest respondents were first-year college students.

Under the subject of main concerns and difficulties, the most common answer was "I want to go outside" at 30.6%, followed by "I want to see other people" at 20.6%. The survey showed that 18.1% of the children were worried about becoming infected with the virus themselves and also about further outbreak, while 15.3% were concerned about not getting enough study and their academic performance becoming poor due to school closures. A first-grade elementary school student wrote, "I've become tired of staying home," while a sixth-grader said, "When I go outside to play some old people get mad."

Some respondents voiced dissatisfaction over the sudden decision to cancel schools without an appropriate explanation, with one fifth-grader writing, "We haven't been told why our school got canceled." Meanwhile, those who were about to graduate expressed dismay over the school closures occurring right before the end of the school year in Japan. "I'm sad that I can't see my friends even though we're graduating (from elementary school)," a sixth-grader said. One third-year junior high school student wrote, "I was unable to express my gratitude (to those at my school)."

Regarding the resumption of classes, likely from the beginning of the new school year in April, many respondents appeared to be worried about getting infected while commuting or in classrooms. Some also voiced concerns over being behind on school work.

Sonoko Kawakami, Save the Children Japan's domestic program chief, said in a news conference on March 27, "Children have the right to voice their opinion, and we doubt whether their voices were reflected when making the decision to close schools. Measures such as providing information based on children's levels of understanding are required, as well as support for children when schools reopen and mental care for the children."

The survey result can be viewed on the Save the Children Japan website at (in Japanese).

(Japanese original by Eri Misono, Lifestyle and Medical News Department)

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