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School Non-Attendance in Japan Hits Record High

Japan’s education ministry says about 299,000 elementary and junior high school students missed school in the year that ended in March 2023. The figure, which has risen 10 years in a row, was the highest on record.

The number of cases of bullying and acts of violence also hit a record high.

The education ministry released the results of an annual survey on non-attendance, bullying and suicide at elementary, junior high and high schools, and special needs schools.

The survey shows that the number of children who missed school for 30 days or more increased by over 54,000, or 22 percent, from the previous year to 299,048.

The number of elementary school students who missed school rose five-fold from a decade earlier to 105,112, and doubled among junior high school students to 193,936.

The figure for high school students also rose, to 60,575.

Cases of bullying also marked a record high of 681,948, up more than 60,000 from the previous school year.

The breakdown was 551,944 cases at elementary schools, 111,404 at junior high schools, 15,568 at high schools, and 3,032 at special needs schools.

The survey says 923 bullying cases were recognized as “serious situations” in which children killed themselves or missed school. The figure was also the highest ever, increasing about 200 cases from a year earlier.

In nearly 40 percent of the cases, schools were not aware that bullying had taken place until they were recognized as serious situations.

The survey shows that violence at elementary, junior high and high schools hit a record of 95,426.

The number of children and students who committed suicide stood at 411, the second highest on record. They included 19 students in elementary school, 123 in junior high, and 269 in high school.

The education ministry says the growing number of children taking their own lives is extremely alarming.

The ministry attributes the rise in numbers of children missing school to changes in their living environment caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

It says various restrictions imposed at school also made it difficult for students to build relationships.

Egawa Kazuya, who is a director at a nationwide network of 84 free schools in Japan, commented on the survey results. Free schools are privately-operated alternative options for children who do not attend conventional classes.

Egawa says the number of non-attendance and bullying cases has grown beyond expectations and that people’s concerns are becoming a reality.

He says non-attendance is being reported among increasingly younger children, and students appear to be having difficulty building personal relationships at school.

He says the pandemic left children with no choice but to build ties in a strained environment, and families were also tense.

He also noted that children have fewer opportunities to bond and trust each other outside of class and at school.

Egawa says children are pressured by relationships and hierarchies that are not visible to adults. He says it’s a big problem that children cannot feel safe even though the pandemic has subsided.

He says the statistics suggest that problems cannot be solved at schools alone.

He says children need places to spend time other than home and school, such as children’s cafeterias, and facilities for after-school care and lessons.

He says the public and private sectors must work together to deal with issues that affect children’s lives.

Source : NHK