School on Saturdays and shorter vacation await Japan’s students

TOKYO — With many Japanese schools closed due to the coronavirus outbreak, local governments in some of the hardest-hit areas plan to shorten summer vacation and hold Saturday classes to help students catch up once the buildings reopen.

Forty-seven of 52 local governments surveyed last week by Nikkei, covering 13 prefectures designated as coronavirus hot spots and the 23 wards of Tokyo, said they will revise operations at public schools once classes resume. The others said they will consider this option in the future, or are waiting to see how long the pandemic lasts.

Japan’s schools have struggled to adapt to the outbreak as stringent bureaucratic requirements inhibit or even prevent online learning. Schools want to ensure that once students return to classrooms, they have time to complete all the coursework for the academic year.

Special events will be canceled or downsized by 35 of these local governments, while 30 plan to shorten their summer vacations. In addition to taking those measures, 13 intend to rearrange class schedules, update curricula and hold Saturday classes. Chiyoda Ward in Tokyo said it already has told public schools to cancel events.

Many also are canceling the scheduled check-ins for students, either at school or at home by their teachers, after Japan extended its national state of emergency April 16 to combat the virus. Many high school students commute to the classroom by train.

“We will have teachers call students once a week to see how they are doing,” Tokyo’s Suginami Ward said.

But some students, particularly those preparing for college entrance exams, worry they are falling behind academically. Governments are weighing various options to resolve these concerns while curbing infection risks.

“We will allow students to come to school about once a week to receive academic help if they want,” Kyoto Prefecture said.

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