Universities should make effective use of distance learning amid virus


The Japan News

12:45 pm, April 14, 2020


From the article:

Due to the spread of the new coronavirus, some universities, mainly those in the Tokyo metropolitan area and the Kansai region, have postponed the start of the new semester to May or later.

In response to the declaration of a state of emergency, Waseda University, Keio University and Ritsumeikan University are among the universities that have, in principle, banned entry to their campuses.

Many students gather at large universities. Unlike elementary, junior high and high school students, university students’ activities are of a wider range. To avoid the crowding of students who could become a source of infection of other people, postponing the start of classes or closing the school for the time being can be said to be unavoidable measures.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry is urging universities to start educational activities as soon as possible through methods such as distance learning using the internet. Among universities nationwide, 47% of them have decided to offer distance learning, and 37% are considering introducing it.

The University of Tokyo’s College of Arts and Sciences uses teleconferencing. Following the class schedule, faculty members offer live instruction from home or the laboratory as students take the classes at home. In order to reduce the amount of data traffic, the classes are mainly audio feeds, but up to 500 students can participate at the same time.

It is necessary for each university to devise ways to cope with its own situation.

Students, act appropriately

Some students do not have Wi-Fi networks available to access the internet at their residences. The ministry plans, via the universities, to lend students information appliances and mobile routers to connect to the internet.

Mobile phone carriers plan to reduce a portion of the data communications fees for those 25 or younger, out of consideration for students who take lessons through distance learning on their mobile phones. Students should make appropriate use of this program, as it is a special measure for academic purposes.

Even if distance learning is not offered, it is possible for students to read specialized books and gather information online in the fields they are majoring in while waiting at home for classes to begin.

Universities are intrinsically places to spontaneously study with a sense of purpose. Students are urged to make effective use of their time.

It is also necessary to pay attention to the economic impact of the declaration of a state of emergency on students. It is expected that students’ income from part-time jobs will decline because of voluntary restraint on activities by the restaurant industry. It is reasonable for the government to have set aside a budget to allow universities to defer or reduce tuition fees.

On the other hand, students are requested to act with restraint during a state of emergency. They should strictly refrain from such occasions as dining with many friends.

There must be some students from regional areas who want to return to their hometowns temporarily. However, there is a risk that unknowingly infected students could spread the disease to areas with vulnerable medical systems. It is essential to understand such an issue and act accordingly.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on April 14, 2020.Speech