Take pandemic into consideration when supporting absentee students

With the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, the number of children absent from school has increased. It is important to ensure children have opportunities to learn and to create an environment in which they can return to school at any time.

Last school year, the number of elementary and junior high school students who were absent from school for more than 30 days a year for reasons excluding illness and financial matters exceeded 190,000, the highest number ever. According to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry, “apathy and anxiety” accounted for nearly half the reasons for skipping school.

Last school year, schools were closed across the country, and states of emergency were repeatedly issued in various areas. Many children may have lost their motivation to go to school as the unfamiliar situation of not going out caused a drastic change in their living environment.

In addition, there were 30,000 elementary, junior high and high school students who did not attend school for a lengthy period to avoid being infected with the coronavirus.

When students skip school for a long time, they commonly have difficulty joining in with friends or following classes, making it even harder for them to continue attending. There are also fears that infections may surge again in future. Schools need to improve their support for children who have been absent for a long time.

In the city of Moriya, Ibaraki Prefecture, during the states of emergency, classes at elementary and junior high schools were held online, and many students who had not been attending school participated. In some cases, they even joined the group discussions, so this was seen as providing an opportunity for them to return to class.

While making the best use of digital devices distributed to each elementary and junior high school student, each school must think hard to provide opportunities for absentee students to attend classes and interact with classmates.

For children who just can’t seem to fit in at school, it is important to provide a variety of options through methods like cooperation with private institutions, such as alternative schools that provide nontraditional educational opportunities.

A worrisome factor is that the number of elementary, junior high and high school students who committed suicide reached a record high of 415, nearly 100 more than the previous school year. This could be due to increasing numbers of children spending more time at home and keeping their worries to themselves.

The ministry is placing counselors and social workers in each school, as well as expanding the number of counseling services. Boards of education and schools must establish a system in which they promptly notice a cry for help and can care for and side with such students.

On the other hand, the number of bullying cases in elementary, junior high, high schools and other schools was 520,000, which is 100,000 less than the previous academic year. However, the number of cyber-bullying cases via social media and other online avenues reached a record 19,000.

This is probably due to the fact that the number of school days has decreased and direct interactions have become less frequent, even as the use of social media has increased. It is believed that there are many cases of bullying that have not yet come to light. It is necessary for adults to continue to watch over students carefully.