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Something's Strange: Education in Japan (1) Too Much Homework during Emergency School Closure Due to COVID-19

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Due to the spread of COVID-19, schools in Japan remained closed until the end of May, but they have at last reopened, taking such cautious measures as staggered attendance. During this state of emergency, medical facilities were not able to close even when the government called on citizens to refrain from going out. The other day when I was seeing patients, 10 children who are now being treated for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) came to see me, accompanied by their mothers. My greatest immediate worry for them now concerns the pent-up stress that they must be experiencing due to the lengthy school closure and the call to stay indoors.

Some mothers were worried about the fact that their children were spending a lot of time playing games or watching on-line video sites, and interestingly enough, three out of ten mothers shared the same concern. They were worried about the large amount of homework assigned to children during the school closure. One mother voiced concern about her son, a fifth-grade boy with ADHD, who was unable to handle all the homework assigned in his eight classes, including music and calligraphy: "I'm the only one who can help him, but I also work, so I have to set aside some time after I get home from work to help him in the evening."

Another mother told me about her six-year old son who had just started elementary school. He showed symptoms of attention deficit and hyperactivity, and was undergoing observation before a decision would be made regarding whether or not to begin medication for ADHD. His mother noted that "he watches his favorite on-line video sites and doesn't seem stressed from not going out." However, like the mother mentioned above, she added that "he has trouble reading and writing, so it's difficult for him when he is assigned a lot of homework."

Teachers, please take some time to think about this. Students have no classes at school, so they can't see their friends either and they are restricted from going outside. How can we ease the stress that these children feel? This is becoming a major social problem. What are your thoughts on this?

And certainly, you can imagine how hard it has been for working parents to find the time to look after their children who have been made to stay home because of kindergarten and school closure?

Of course, I understand that teachers are very concerned about children falling behind in their learning. But haven't they realized giving too much homework has actually further increased the stress felt by many children as well as the physical and mental burden on their parents?

Not being able to cover the expected curriculum within the school year will, of course, also affect children's progress in learning, and perhaps concern about the prospect of completing the curriculum within the school year, which is a concern about being able to achieve one's goal, is reflected in the excessive amount of homework.

There may be students who are coming to school without having finished their homework, but please be understanding and lenient.

Furthermore, even if schools have reopened, depending on the region, a shortened summer vacation has already been announced. If large amounts of homework are assigned during the shortened summer vacation as was the case during the recent school closure, parents and children will surely experience the same difficulties again. We must ensure that this will not happen.

This blog post has become a bit emotional, but I hope teachers will keep this in mind.

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sakakihara_2013.jpg Yoichi Sakakihara
M.D., Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Ochanomizu University; Director of Child Research Net, Executive Advisor of Benesse Educational Research and Development Institute (BERD), President of Japanese Society of Child Science. Specializes in pediatric neurology, developmental neurology, in particular, treatment of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Asperger's syndrome and other developmental disorders, and neuroscience. Born in 1951. Graduated from the Faculty of Medicine, the University of Tokyo in 1976 and taught as an instructor in the Department of the Pediatrics before working with Ochanomizu University.
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