TOKYO -- As many universities across Japan plan to hold classes online from the new school year starting April 1 to prevent further spread of the novel coronavirus, concerns have emerged over students without unlimited internet access running out of data.
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Accessing previously recorded or livestreamed videos for online classes can use up large amounts of data, presenting a potential problem to pupils who do not have unlimited access to the internet, like those staying in boarding houses. There's also a possibility that students who attend classes using their smartphones will be charged hefty sums for exceeding their data caps.
A lot of universities in Japan have postponed the start of classes until the end of April to early May, when the "Golden Week" holiday period is over, and are placing partial restrictions on entering campuses as well as on club activities. Institutions are scrambling to maintain class quality, and to introduce systems to communicate with students taking lectures as well as to confirm attendance. However, problems remain as to how to deal with off-campus programs and lab research.
The University of Tokyo's Faculty of Agriculture will apparently be testing online lectures for two weeks from April 3, the school's original start date, and plans to postpone classes that involve lab experiments until the end of the holiday period in May.
Masaru Mizoguchi, a professor at the faculty, told the Mainichi Shimbun, "I don't think rushing to start it (online classes) will be of any good, but enabling people to take classes and handle paperwork online will lead to university education reform."
But most mobile phone plans have a monthly internet data use cap, and for this reason, students who cannot access an unlimited Wi-Fi connection and other necessary tools, can end up having to pay for excess data.
"That's what I'm most concerned about. It's problematic to create a sense of inequality," Mizoguchi explained.
Rikkyo University in Tokyo will also put off all face-to-face classes until April 29, and hold online lectures for compulsory subjects. Akita International University and Nagoya University of Commerce and Business plan to stream all their classes for the time being, while Kyoto University and Hiroshima University are considering putting some of their lectures online. Kyoto-based Ritsumeikan University will not be streaming lectures, but will introduce other measures such as giving out assignments electronically. Universities scheduled to begin face-to-face classes will evaluate the density of students in each classroom and take other steps to prevent infections.
The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in a March 24 notification recommended that all universities in Japan hold classes online. On Twitter, professors and students have been expressing concerns, such as, "Who will pay for the cost of data?" and "I'm worried that eateries where customers can use free Wi-Fi will become packed with students."
However, an official at the education ministry's university promotion division explained, "Schools don't have to shut everything down. For students who do not have computers or internet connections at home, we ask universities to open computer rooms and classrooms with Wi-Fi connections, and let them take online classes while being careful about not getting too close to others."
(Japanese original by Shuji Ozaki, Tokyo Local News Group)