Underlying issues, technological deficits, and overcoming the pandemic were all issues that Japan (and other countries) had to go through and surpass starting 2020 with the outbreak of COVID-19. Nationwide school closure was implemented throughout Japan on March 2, 2020, that continued until May 2020. Japanese schools had been reported to be unprepared to carry out online learning, leading to some “lost studying time during COVID-19”. Japan is known internationally for its innovative technologies and efficient industries, but this does not necessarily extend to the education service.
Let’s look at how the Japanese education services have coped during the pandemic and how the entire industry has been changed during this time.
History of Remote/Distance Learning
In 19th century England, 1840 to be exact, the first recognized correspondence courses in shorthand were noted to be print-based course materials that were sent through postal services to distance learners. Before the pandemic, the second generation of distance education was in the form of collaboration between multimedia (radio, television, cassette tapes, CD-ROMs, etc.) and print materials. Most recently, distance learning involves internet-based study where course materials and lectures are all available in digital form that all aim to enable more interaction between the students and their teachers.
These days, internet-based learning can be either synchronous or asynchronous. Recorded online lessons like those offered by Massive Open Online Course (MOOC), allow students to browse through (predominantly) free content and lets them learn at their own pace. This does not require live interaction with the teachers who record courses choices from different universities, skills and job training institutions, etc. Synchronous learning is a live, interactive online course that provides real-time interaction. Two-way communications have become possible to let students and teachers participate at the same time in live lectures, ask questions, discuss school work, collaborate with classmates remotely, and more.
The pandemic has brought to light some issues that Japan had been facing before the spread of COVID-19:
Lack of students’ access to financial support for higher education
About 39 percent of university students in 2017 had taken out loans (this was before COVID-19). During the pandemic, many students pursuing graduate and post-graduate degrees have been financially burdened because of their loss of income or their family members’ loss of income. To help aid students, educational institutions have extended their hands to provide more scholarships, grants, and loans for tuition and other education-related items for online/distance learning, rather than lowering their tuition fees.
MEXT, or the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology, had been providing cash aids to “those who face difficulties continuing their studies at their university or other educational institutions so that they do not abandon their studies.”
Child poverty and education inequality became more prominent in light of COVID-19. Children from impoverished areas relied on their schools to access nutritious meals. Moreover, private and public education institutions had very different approaches to the need for distance learning.
Covid-19 has also highlighted that online learning (in all its forms) may become even more significant in years to come. Despite this, about one in twenty Japanese children lack the conveniences and technology necessary for online learning. Basic ones such as a quiet study space, a laptop/computer/tablet, or even textbooks. Japan is the fourth-worst performer on this indicator across the OECD.
Japan’s Coping Mechanisms
School closures increased the study time of students using the available online learning services with the strongest effect at the beginning of this period
Online learning services enabled students to study online with missed classes during the school closure period having been compensated
There has been a strong correlation between the efforts teachers have put during the closure period with the effect on study time. (this effort was measured by the number of messages sent to students via the online learning service)
The maximum number of students in junior high schools has been reduced to 35 from 40 as stated on new reforms in the country. This will be achieved in stages (until 2025) as this requires increasing the number of teachers and classrooms as well.
Global and Innovation Gateway for All (GIGA) School Program was initially launched in 2017 to gradually provide students in Japanese schools with ICT devices and was intended to last through 2024. However, when COVID-19 came, the program was fast-tracked and eventually moved up by three years.
Face-to-face interactions had to be minimized, if not entirely avoided since 2020 because of COVID-19. Many teachers have been rendered unprepared by the sudden need for online teaching which also means that schools throughout Japan had to cope doubly as fast with this issue to ensure students' education continues and for teachers to become updated with the current Education Technologies (EdTechs). While other countries immediately turned to online learning amid social distancing, Japanese schools were noted to have summoned their students back to school to collect multiple home works to last them until spring break. Teachers (and parents) were fervently searching for alternatives to traditional classroom learning.
The graph above shows data from before the pandemic. It can be noted above that the teachers in Japan:
Had the least percentage of teachers who frequently allowed students to use ICT for school work;
Had slightly above the average percentage of teachers who had ICT integrated into their training;
Had the least amount of teachers who were confident to use ICT to support students’ learning;
Had slightly below the average percentage of teachers that had professional development involving ICT; and
Had the most number of teachers who feel there the need to integrate ICT into their professional development.
Teachers, students, and parents all need to be very familiar with EdTechs for the innovations to be effective. The availability of all these new technologies will be moot if users do not know how to use them, or if they are too complicated for users to operate properly. The initial reaction to remote learning or distance learning has been of surprise, to say the least.
A Tip for Distance and Hybrid Learning Educators
To lessen the burden of integrating innovative technology into the everyday teaching experience, there are products available in the market that incorporates all the necessities in one versatile device. Coolpo AI Huddle Pana is an all-in-one video conferencing device that aids you to support your students remotely. Its plug-and-play feature lets you easily connect with your laptop or computer without the hassle of setting up additional drivers. Some of the basic and readily accessible features include:
360-degree HD panoramic AI-based camera
Auto-focus and auto-zoom on the speaker
4 microphones each with up to 15 feet sound pickup
However, for a more personalized experience, you can also configure various video settings using the downloadable Coolpo Tools program.
The Pana is very versatile! Different industries around the world have already happily used our product for different cases like meetings, consultations, lectures, hearings in court, etc.
If you would like to learn more about Coolpo AI Huddle Pana, please feel free to contact us.
With Japan’s propensity for innovation, it has the opportunity to lead other countries in the fight against underlying issues that were called to attention during COVID-19. During this time, many students have gone back to school as restrictions were lifted. However, for those who choose to retain the online/remote/hybrid learning model, integrating ICT into the teaching process does not necessarily need complicated tools to be effective. All you need is a versatile machine that will help you reach your goals as an educator, and maximize the opportunities presented by the pandemic.