About 123,000 elementary and junior high school students were absent from school for 30 days or longer in the 2004 school year, down about 3,000 from the previous year, the education ministry said Wednesday.

Although the number of such students dropped for the third consecutive year, truancy remains a serious problem, the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry said.

The percentage of truants in the total student population improved by a mere 0.01 percentage point to 1.14 percent, according to preliminary figures of the ministry’s school survey.

The ministry attributed the slight improvement to the special classes many schools held for students prone to skipping class.

The survey, compiled by the ministry, said that one in 37 junior high school students was absent for 30 days or longer between April 2004 and last March.

The elementary school ratio was one in 309, according to the survey.

Of all absentees, one-third were third-year junior high school students, it said.

Meanwhile, the percentage of junior high school graduates entering high school reached a record high of 97.6 percent, the survey found.

In Japan, compulsory education runs for nine years from elementary school through junior high school.

The percentage of high school graduates going onto to higher education topped the 50 percent line for the first time, reaching 51.5 percent.

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