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Crisis offers an opportunity for radical educational reform

25 3 9

With no end in sight to the COVID-19 outbreak, and having just declared a state of emergency, the Japanese government is now deliberating whether to extend its February guidance for the nationwide closure of schools beyond the usual start of the academic year early this month.

For the Japanese school system, however, the crisis offers an opportunity for more radical reform: Japan’s education ministry could shift the start of this year’s school calendar to September, thus giving the nation an extra summer to weather the new coronavirus.

Schools around the country have already begun to extend their closures.

Last week, Tokyo Gov. Yuriko Koike decided to shutter all metropolitan schools till after the Golden Week holiday ending in early May, urging all ward and city governments within the area to follow suit.

Several of the Japanese capital’s elite private institutions, including Keio, Meiji, Sophia, and Waseda universities, have postponed their spring semesters till later this month or next. The University of Tokyo, the nation’s premier public university, is transitioning to online instruction indefinitely.

But nobody has yet considered revamping the entire Japanese school calendar of 2020-2021.

At first glance, the unknown benefits of moving up an entire school year by some five months would seem hardly worth the accompanying administrative headache.

Advocates of fall enrollment point to the benefits of aligning Japan’s education system with most overseas school calendars, thereby facilitating study abroad activities as well as cooperation with foreign universities — two areas where Japan is seen as lagging.

However, critics argue that businesses’ hiring patterns would be thrown out of whack, and that students would need to plan for the extra time between graduation and college admission. From an administrative perspective, there is also an argument for keeping Japan’s academic and fiscal calendars fixed........

© The Japan Times