According to Fujikawa Daisuke, professor in education at Chiba University, Japanese schools in general have a deep-rooted preference for face-to-face teaching and learning. In addition, the general lack of readiness for taking advantage of information and communications technology (ICT) in Japanese schools makes online learning less welcomed. OECD data in 2018 showed that 89% of students never or hardly every use digital device in math classes, which was among the lowest among all OECD members.
However, as Covid-19 pandemic rages, affecting 1.5 billion students worldwide (UNESCO) and forcing schools and universities pivot for ways to adapt their teaching and operations, Japanese schools and universities also have had to take classes online. According to a recent survey by MEXT, 80% of all universities plan to conduct hybrid learning – a combination of face-to-face and virtual methods – in the Fall semester. Universities have also launched and promoted on-demand lectures platforms. For example, Chiba University of Commerce’s portal allows professors to upload their lecture videos on the learning management system for students to access and work on assignments afterwards. Hiroshima University launched a website called “Enhance Your Knowledge: 100 Great Lectures at HU” where HU faculty upload lectures accessible to the public.
As online education grows in popularity, it has also received advocacy from multiple parties. In the academia, many universities provide mandatory training courses for faculty members, administrative staff and students to master digital skills and protect data privacy (University World News).
Keio University Professor Ishido Nanako sees tough times of the pandemic and ICT challenges as opportunity: “It’s time we find ways to build a new education system or “hybrid learning” […] which ultimately provides students with more creative opportunities” (NHKWorld).
In favor of online learning, parties to the Tokyo Convention on the recognition of qualifications in the Aisa-Pacific have called for the recognition of qualifications “obtained through non-traditional learning modes as well as partial studies,” particularly considering the impact of COVID-19 on over 750 million learners in the region (UNESCO).
Not only in the academia do we see shifts and a gradual openness to online learning. A survey of 1,500 local parents in the city of Musashino in greater Japan found that 96% of them supported online education. The parents also petitioned the mayor for online education to be provided for all public school children. In the general public, a recent survey by Ipsos for the World Economic Forum reported that about 50% of the Japanese respondents believe that higher education will be conducted mostly to entirely online or as a combination of online and in-person.
A change in attitude and the handling of online learning is witnessed among Japanese academia and the general public, yet there are without a doubt challenges to be dealt with to ensure quality teaching and learning in the virtual space. According to the 2020 survey of Japan e-Learning Consortium, the top two reasons for learners’ dissatisfaction during online learning is the difficulty with maintaining motivation for learning and the lack of interaction. As university students and faculty as well as learners and education providers in the virtual space navigate the rapid changes in academic environments, it is necessary for innovative strategies and learning models to make online learning engaging and effective for all students.