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Coronavirus

Japan schools rush to wrap up academic year before shutdown

Coronavirus closure disrupts calendar for exams and final grades

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has told all public schools to close from Monday and cancel final exams.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Teachers and students in Japan are in an unprecedented scramble to finish the academic year weeks early after the national government requested schools close from Monday to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

Many schools hastily wrapped up the term on Friday, the same day the request to close was officially made, despite the semester running through mid-March. But with such short notice, questions remain whether students will be ready to return to school once the following academic year starts in April.

"I've been teaching for more than 30 years, but this is a first," a teacher at the Tokyo Metropolitan Hakuo High School told students on Friday. "I know some of you feel lost, but the most important thing is to stay calm."

Hakuo students are expected to continue their studies on their own, meaning they have three times as much homework as they normally would. "I'm totally shocked by what's happening," a 16-year-old student said.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Government has told all public schools to close on Monday and cancel final exams. Students will be graded based on their performance up to this point in the school year.

Students in Japan will have plenty of homework due to school closures. (Photo by Megumi Kito)

Still, the closure means some students may not complete the legally mandated coursework for their grade level. One public elementary school in Tokyo gave students work sheets corresponding to specific pages from textbooks. "We don't have a choice on suspending classes, but I want to make sure students learn as much as students from other years," the principal said.

Meanwhile, Osaka's board of education has said it was worried certain students may not complete the required hours for different subjects. The city is closing public elementary and middle schools and kindergartens from Saturday to March 13.

"If we feel that students haven't learned enough, we will need to consider makeup classes during the spring break," the board said. It will also allow schools to hold final exams during the closure, if necessary.

All prefectural boards of education, excluding in the coronavirus-free Shimane Prefecture, are heeding the national government's request to close public high schools. But elementary and middle schools fall under the purview of city and town boards of education, and not all have agreed to a shutdown.

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