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As society and education changes, Japan is slowly opening up to the idea of online high school courses. But while modern technology makes video lessons and email correspondence easy to implement, some things are still lost in the transition to a virtual classroom setting. One major issue is the lack of ability to affirm your own individuality, as well as the increased difficulty of building bonds with other students without any sort of visual representation of their identities.

Hoping to alleviate these problems is a new online high school in Japan that requires students to create anime-style online avatars, and even provides a simulated school campus for them to mingle in.

Located in Chiba City, Meisei High School, which has a physical campus where students attend lessons, boasts a 98.1-percent graduation rate. But while the institution seems to be doing a fine job educating young minds by traditional methods, this year it’s branching out with an entirely online high school called Meisei Cyber Gakushukoku, or Meisei Cyber Learning Country.

The school’s lectures are presented in the form of 20-minute videos featuring Meisei Cyber Gakushukoku instructors. Students can access these lessons from their PC, smartphone, or tablet.

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That’s not to say students never see their teachers face-to-face. Instructors and pupils meet at least four times a year for counseling, and are also available for in-person talks to discuss study or personal problems their pupils are experiencing. The teens can also opt to conduct such communication by email, fax, or telephone if they prefer.

So far, these are all standard things offered by online education programs. Where Meisei Cyber Gakushukoku starts getting unique, though, is in the way it’s actually made an interactive, visual representation of its school.

▼ Like any campus in Japan, it features a schoolhouse and athletic field, plus some things that would be a little too luxurious in real life, such as a private beach.

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But what good is a school with no students? That’s why upon enrolling in Meisei Cyber Gakushukoku, students create an avatar, picking from over 200 hairstyles, clothing items, and accessories. The avatar’s appearance can be changed at will, too, letting students fine-tune their outfit daily.

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▼ The dress code appears to be a little less strict than at an ordinary Japanese high school.

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Of course, all those items aren’t free. In order to acquire new items, students have to spend MS points, which they acquire by attending classes and completing mini tests, which are sent to their avatar’s in-system home.

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Meisei Cyber Gakushukoku even tries to fill the void of online campus life with after-school areas where students can fish, grow vegetables, and interact with their schoolmates’ avatars.

▼ “How’d you do on the test?” one student asks another.

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While all of this might seem like a cynical, defeatist response to kids being more interested in playing mobile games than studying, Meisei Cyber Gakushukoku insists there’re real benefits to be gained through its unique approach. Among teens enrolled in correspondence programs, many of them still have a desire to feel connected to their peers and teachers. By creating a virtual space where they can be linked to other students and instructors, the school hopes that its system will come to represent a new beginning for online schools.

Thanks to financial support from Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports Science and Technology, plus discounted rates in commemoration of the program’s first year, for some students tuition for Meisei Cyber Gakushukoku can be as low as nothing at all for the first 12 months. The school is accepting requests for trial enrollment orientations, the application for which can be found here, between now and March 10. If you’re not ready to take the plunge (or if you’ve already got your diploma), you can check out a video introduction to the school, plus a sample of one of its English classes, below.

The school year starts April 1, and while you won’t have to worry about brushing your own hair before class, you’ll want to make sure your avatar’s looks nice and presentable.

Related: Meisei Meisei Cyber Gakushukoku
Source: Mainichi Shimbun via Golden Times
Top image: YouTube
Insert images: YouTube