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Editorial: More donations needed to support pandemic-hit students in Japan

As the novel coronavirus pandemic has dragged on, there have been students in Japan who have given up on pursuing their studies further, and are even considering quitting school, as they face difficulties making ends meet.

    Amid a lack of government support measures, students in need have had to rely on private organizations for assistance. Those groups, however, have not been able to respond to students' demands sufficiently, as they have had a hard time trying to raise donations amid the pandemic.

    Ashinaga, a general incorporated foundation, has provided scholarships to children who have lost their parents to illnesses, disasters, suicides or other causes. So far this year, the group has seen the number of new applicants for its scholarships top 700, more than in normal years, due to declines in their guardians' incomes, among other reasons. Currently, there are more than 7,000 recipients of Ashinaga scholarships, meaning that the group is expected to grant a record 6 billion yen (about $58 million) in the 2020 academic year.

    However, as the group has suspended donation collection campaigns on the streets by volunteering students and others this spring and fall due to the coronavirus pandemic, contributions that provide funding for scholarships have been in short supply.

    By virtue of Ashinaga scholarships, some 110,000 people have been able to advance to high schools, universities, junior colleges and other educational institutions since 1969. While the foundation this year is responding to scholarship applicants by digging into its reserve funds, the body will soon have no option but to narrow down recipients due to its financial situation.

    As the number of scholarship applicants is expected to rise further, if donation shortages continue, it would deal an even greater blow to students.

    Usnova, a public interest incorporated foundation dealing with child poverty issues, launched an emergency assistance program this year to provide a lump sum of 40,000 yen (roughly $384) to high school students and others in needy households, and saw a rush of applications for the aid. The group raised donations through crowdfunding and managed to provide the allowance to over 4,000 students. However, due to the coronavirus crisis, it has been unable to stage street donation campaigns like it did in the past.

    As part of efforts to support students in need, the government has launched an assistance program to grant up to 200,000 yen (around $1,917) each to roughly 430,000 students enrolled at universities and other institutions to cover significant declines in their part-time incomes due to the virus crisis.

    Nevertheless, those covered by the program account for only about 10% of all students in Japan. Many students are believed to be relying on private organizations for financial assistance.

    Another nonprofit group that has offered academic support to high school students said, "The government needs to provide even greater assistance to students. At this rate, the number of children who hesitate to go on to higher education is likely to keep rising."

    Donations to these support groups can also be made on the internet. While a growing number of people are struggling to make a living amid the pandemic, society faces a test over whether it can support such youths, the bearers of our future. Let us listen to their voices, and respond to their demands, even if only a little.

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