Logistical mishaps and contradicting guidelines hinder what could be one of the best ways to lower COVID-19 community transmission.

While Japan has kept the number of imported cases of COVID-19 low with restricted borders, the nation is struggling to contain the spread of COVID-19 domestically as larger cities such as Tokyo grapple with a fourth wave of infections. One of the most hard-hit areas in particular has been Osaka, and given the circumstances, closing schools and transitioning to remote learning is one of the most logical things to do. However, attempts by Osaka City’s board of education have been bombarded with logistical hiccups and confusing guidelines which have raised anger among educators.

▼ The skyline of Osaka’s central hub, pre-COVID-19 and pre-pufferfish-exodus.

Osaka is one of the few cities in Japan attempting a transition to remote learning — which is not only important in reducing the local transmission of COVID-19, but an opportunity to set a leading example within a country where constitutional limits forbid nationwide mandates even in a public health crisis — and some schools have been going back and forth between staying closed or resuming lessons as usual.

Unfortunately, the city’s efforts have been bogged down in multiple different ways, and we’ve found three main issues hindering Osaka’s transition to remote learning for elementary as well as junior high school students.

▼ A visual representation of how we imagine Osaka educators to be feeling right now.

The first issue is ensuring student accessibility to remote learning technology. While MEXT (Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology) jumpstarted a program called the GIGA School Initiative to provide Internet-connecting devices, particularly to elementary and junior high school students after the pandemic’s onset, according to a recent study performed by the initiative, the ratio of students to Internet-connecting devices, whether smartphone, tablet or computer, is at one device per five students on both a national level and in Osaka Prefecture.

▼ Of the devices delivered, it seems tablets are the most common, though this is no surprise given their ease of use and similarity to smartphone software.

Of course, simply ensuring everyone has the tech doesn’t mean everything’s ready to go, and this leads to a second hurdle: adapting to remote learning, which has been a struggle for many. From familiarizing themselves with remote-teaching methods, easing students into taking classes online, and the troubleshooting of tech issues, teachers in Osaka have signaled that they are falling behind with little time to spare for catching up. It doesn’t help that Osaka City’s board of education had set a rather strict deadline, announcing its new remote-learning policy for elementary and middle schools on April 22 and calling for schools in the area to begin remote learning on April 25, which only allowed  three days for instructors, school staff, students, and parents to prepare for an education style which is still extremely rare in Japan.

▼ No pressure for the local IT staff working at schools!

But what has truly raised the ire of Osaka City educators isn’t the logistical slowdowns nor the lack of time given for the transition, but a guideline directing students to return to school for lunch during the remote-learning period. So far, the guidelines have received considerable blowback from both school staff and Japanese netizens alike:

“Aren’t… aren’t we getting our priorities completely backward if we make the students learn online but still go to school for lunch?”
“And all this time we keep getting told not to dine together.”
“They should consider the school staff more and also not put kids at risk…”
“But isn’t eating when infectious droplets spread the most?”
“If they want to really do this, then they better figure out a way to protect the staff preparing school lunches.”

▼ A picture of the typical lunch provided by schools.

Granted, schools offering lunch is a vital part of the community safety net, especially for students affected by food poverty. However, forcing every student, regardless of their situation, to return to school for lunch seems to contradict the purpose of keeping schools closed in the first place, and with cases rising, the anger expressed by teachers and locals is understandable. At the end of the day, it may seem like common sense to shut down schools, but then again, some pretty wild takes have been given in the past year by local leaders regarding preventative measures against COVID-19.

▼ It takes a village for even one small part of a school’s daily operations, and students as well as staff deserve a safe working environment.

During a time period riddled with anxiety and uncertainty, the last thing teachers, who are viewed but not necessarily treated as one of the backbones of human society, and students need is a higher risk of contracting COVID-19. And while it’s too early to determine how Osaka City’s transition to remote learning will pan out, we sincerely hope policy adjustments are made as it’s believed that vaccine rollout won’t reach the general public until mid-July at the earliest.

Related: MEXT Giga School Initiative
Source: Yahoo News! via Hachima Kiko, Sankei News
Top image: Pakutaso
Insert images: Pakutaso (1, 2, 3, 4), Photo AC, Wikimedia/Osamu Iwasaki
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