Help schoolkids keep dreams alive despite pandemic’s disruptive effects

There are concerns about the impact the prolonged novel coronavirus pandemic is having on the physical and mental health of children and their education. Schools and families must work together to create a supportive environment for children.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has released the results of the national academic achievement tests conducted in May this year on sixth-grade elementary school students and third-year junior high school students. Last year’s tests were canceled as schools were closed nationwide across the board due to the coronavirus pandemic. This year was the first time in two years the tests were held.

The national average scores for Japanese, and arithmetic and mathematics, for elementary and junior high school students were all almost the same as those in past years. Overall, the school closures last spring had no impact on the scores, according to the ministry.

Some schools were closed for more than three months. After schools reopened, they made up for the learning delays by shortening the summer holidays or holding classes on Saturdays. These steady efforts on the part of schools must have been successful.

However, tests of academic performance conducted by some local governments, which were carried out separately from the national academic achievement tests, showed performance declines due to school closures. It is hoped that each board of education will analyze the results of the national tests in detail and use them to improve classes and guidance in the future.

The national tests also revealed issues regarding the ability of students to find necessary information from multiple texts and materials, and the ability to interpret everyday things mathematically using charts and graphs.

In elementary and junior high schools, revised teaching guidelines have been implemented based on so-called active learning — which is independent, interactive and deep — to help students express and think for themselves. It is also important to further enhance such teaching methods.

Even so, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on children’s minds and bodies is worrisome. According to a student survey that was conducted as part of the national tests, 55% of elementary school students and 63% of junior high school students felt anxious about their studies during the school closures. Many students also said they were unable to study methodically and could not have a balanced daily schedule.

When children studying at home had questions regarding their schoolwork, many elementary and junior high school students said they asked family members or did their own research. Less than 10% said they asked their teachers. This indicates that the schools were not sufficiently prepared to support the children’s learning.

There was also a decrease in the number of elementary and junior high school students who said they had dreams and goals for the future, and that they enjoyed their school lives. Such responses may be the result of the cancellation of school trips, sports days, local festivals and other events, which may have reduced opportunities for students to interact with each other.

The huge wave of infections is ongoing. It is important to maintain school education as much as possible while paying attention to infection control measures so students are not deprived of learning opportunities. Each municipality needs to devise measures to prevent children from feeling depressed and losing their motivation.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 1, 2021.