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Editorial: Amid school closures, Japan must quickly utilize online teaching tools

The majority of schools in prefectures under a state of emergency over the spread of the novel coronavirus in Japan continue to remain closed, with similar situations seen in some other areas.

Tokyo and the other prefectures under a state of emergency plan to keep schools closed until May 6. This could result in a gap in learning opportunities between students whose schools have been closed and those in other areas who returned to school at the start of the new academic year.

Students preparing to sit entrance exams, in particular, probably feel anxious about the situation. Measures are urgently needed to make sure children's opportunities for learning are fairly guaranteed as much as possible.

Online lessons are one effective method. Recorded lessons can be watched at home, and with the use of web conferencing systems, students can interact with teachers.

Such lessons are already being held in China and South Korea under the leadership of their respective governments. In Japan, the government has finally started full-scale preparations, loaning communications equipment to households without sufficient internet connections, among other measures.

According to the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment, a worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) measuring the scholastic performance of 15-year-olds, when it came to classes using digital equipment, Japan ranked the lowest of all the member countries in reading, mathematics and science.

Internet-based education has yet to spread in schools across Japan, with teachers' skills in utilizing the technology and the introduction of equipment lagging.

At the same time, the use of such technology has progressed at preparatory and cram schools, and children in homes with internet connectivity are able to receive thorough conversational instruction even while schools are temporarily closed. It is not simply a case of differences across different regions -- economic disparity could also spread.

It is important to speedily implement the things that can be done.

The city of Yokohama, south of Tokyo, was quick to start preparing for online lessons. Video lessons for students from the first year of elementary school right through to the third year of high school began on April 8. Even if students do not have the equipment at home, they can watch teaching videos at school. We hope that such measures will spread.

Japan's big three mobile phone carriers -- NTT Docomo Inc., KDDI Corp., operator of the au brand, and SoftBank Corp. -- have announced that they will partially waive some data charges for users aged under 25. Society needs to come together as a whole to support children's learning.

The declaration of the state of emergency in Japan is in place for one month. But there is no guarantee that coronavirus infections will have died down by then. The government and local bodies should quickly formulate measures with the possibility of the further extension of temporary school closures in mind.

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