National | Regional Voices: Kyushu

Japan’s farming and fisheries schools struggle to move lessons online

Nishinippon Shimbun

The coronavirus pandemic has forced schools across Japan to switch to online education, posing a challenge for institutions specialized in agricultural and fisheries studies, which need practical training that can’t be conducted online.

Amid the pandemic, students who are required to go through practical training, including on navigation so they can attain national qualifications, are not able to carry that out at present.

Most schools in the Kyushu region have resumed classes now that the state of emergency has been lifted. However, teachers at schools offering practical training are worried whether they will be able to go through the necessary areas required for the national qualifications by the end of the academic year, which ends in March.

A comment recently posted on the website of Kumamoto Agricultural High School, a prefecture-run institution in the city of Kumamoto, reads, “Even during the school closure, plants on our farm are growing quickly!”

Photos posted on the website also show school teachers and staffers harvesting white radish. But absent from the photos are the students who sowed the seeds in March.

Third-year students at the high school traditionally use the harvested radish in a sports festival dancing program in May. But the sports event itself was canceled due to the coronavirus outbreak. The school has also canceled farming class sessions during which students were set to cultivate spring crops such as watermelon and tomatoes and harvest them in the summer.

The pandemic has also affected the school’s livestock handlers. Students enrolled in the school’s livestock breeding course take care of about 500 chickens and several dozen cows and pigs.

Normally, students would collect freshly produced eggs, milk the cows and clean the barn every morning. Due to the pandemic, teachers have had to take over these obligations.

“You can’t conduct cropping and harvesting lessons, or training on how to raise farm animals online,” said Takamitsu Kusano, the school’s vice principal. “I am looking forward to seeing our students back on our farm.”

After the state of emergency was lifted in the prefecture, some training sessions resumed for students in the second and third year, on a rotating basis from May 18. The school plans to resume face-to-face classes from Monday.

Meanwhile in Fukuoka Prefecture, students enrolled at Fukuoka Technical High School, a public school located in the city, are supposed to learn how to operate processing machines, including those for metal — some students even become skilled enough to obtain an electrical worker certificate. But schools have not been able to offer lessons for such skills due to the prolonged school closures.

The school resumed classes in smaller groups starting May 19 and fully reopened Friday. But the closure has especially taken a toll on first-year students, who need to learn how to operate specialized machines and tools from scratch.

The delay has also sparked concerns about safety, given that students need to acquire sufficient knowledge and skills to operate tools to proceed with the curriculum.

Fisheries schools share the same problem. Students enrolled in fisheries courses are now unable to board vessels to learn about navigation and fishing.

“The vessel actually is our school. If you don’t get on board, you won’t learn how to steer,” said Akihito Oshiba, 53, who teaches marine science at Fukuoka Prefectural Suisan Marine Studies High School in the city of Fukutsu.

After completing the school’s three-year basic course, students improve their skills during a two-year specialized program.

Every year, about 10 students on the specialized program cruise off the coast of Hawaii, where they spend about a year learning how to navigate and gaining knowledge about tuna longline fishing. This year, the cruise scheduled to start in April was called off.

Now that the state of emergency in Fukuoka has been lifted, the school is revising its curriculum. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the school plans to shorten its onboard training program, which will resume in September and will not include Hawaii in the itinerary.

However, such changes will affect students who are required to complete training lasting at least a year so they can take the level three maritime officer certificate, a national qualification.

The school, along with other institutions, is urging the government to allow students to take the exam by counting classroom lectures as equivalent to the practical experience required for national qualifications.

School authorities worry, however, that even after classes are resumed, onboard training will pose a high risk of infection due to closed and poorly ventilated spaces.

The school will require its students to self-quarantine for two weeks before boarding the training vessel.

“I want to help our students, including their mental status, and send them on a journey across the seas,” Oshiba said.

This section features topics and issues from the Kyushu region covered by the Nishinippon Shimbun, the largest daily newspaper in Kyushu. The original article was published on May 18.

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