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Est. 57% of Japan teachers worked past karoshi threshold in July amid pandemic: survey

Chairman Shinji Fujikawa of nonprofit group Kyoiku no Mori, right, is seen explaining survey results at a press conference in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on Aug. 21, 2020. (Mainichi/Akira Okubo)

TOKYO -- Fifty-seven percent of public school teachers across Japan worked over 80 hours of overtime in the month of July -- passing the threshold for increased risk of death by overwork, according to a survey conducted by a nonprofit organization that supports educators.

    The findings suggest that attempts to catch up on lost lessons due to the long closure of schools amid the coronavirus pandemic, as well as extra work related to school disinfection measures and other tasks, are leading to longer hours for teachers.

    Tokyo-based nonprofit organization Kyoiku no Mori carried out the online survey between July 10 and 26, targeting teachers and staff of national, public and private elementary, junior high, and high schools, and special needs schools across Japan, and obtained responses from 1,203 individuals. The nonprofit group asked respondents their average overtime hours on weekdays and days off in July, including work brought home, and used the figures to estimate total overtime hours over four weeks.

    When analyzing data of 935 teachers who work full time at public schools, excluding those in managerial positions, 534 people, or 57.1%, were found to have worked over 80 hours of overtime during the month. Among them, overtime hours of 399 teachers, or 42.7%, reached 100 hours or more.

    The education ministry established a policy this January to cap maximum monthly overtime at 45 hours in order to push forward work-style reforms for public school teachers. However, it has been revealed that long work hours violating the guideline have been the norm among teachers put under strain by the pandemic.

    Regarding the most demanding pandemic-related tasks, disinfection measures inside schools gathered the highest proportion of answers among the 14 options provided, with 90.1% of respondents answering either "I very much agree," or "I somewhat agree." Other reportedly demanding tasks included "guidance to children on social distancing" (88.4%), "meetings and conferences" (80.9%), "to work through students' worries with them" (80.8%), and "to make up for delayed lessons" (79.7%).

    It was also revealed that teachers who felt badly fatigued and stressed were more likely to answer, "I've been unable to lend an ear to what the children have to say," and "I wind up holding sloppy classes."

    Kyoiku no Mori has submitted an emergency advisory to education minister Koichi Hagiuda urging him to take action to reduce the burden on teachers by increasing personnel and making further cuts to the curriculum.

    The nonprofit group's chairman Shinji Fujikawa commented, "We have learned that the education field is under strain beyond our imagination due to an increase in tasks amid the novel coronavirus, and that such negative impacts could affect children as well. It can be said that it's necessary for society as a whole to think about ways to reduce the burden on teachers."

    (Japanese original by Akira Okubo, City News Department)

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