The education ministry has kicked off its first extensive survey to examine how elementary and junior high school students were affected by nationwide school closures implemented in spring 2020 in the fight against the coronavirus.

In order to assess the impact of the measure in terms of children’s learning and psychological well-being, the ministry is handing out questionnaires to principals of selected elementary and junior high schools, as well as to students of those schools and their parents. People who fill out the questionnaires will be asked whether there were any physical or emotional changes for the children.

The ministry plans to conduct a follow-up survey covering the same respondents in fiscal 2021, which starts in April this year. It also plans to have experts and others analyze the results.

At the end of February last year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe asked elementary, junior high and high schools across Japan to close starting the following month. According to the ministry, 98.9% of public schools were closed as of March 16.

While the school closure was initially introduced as an early spring break, the period was extended as the government declared a nationwide state of emergency over the coronavirus in April. Many schools finally reopened fully between May and June.

For the survey, the ministry picked 4,000 elementary schools and 4,000 junior high schools.

In January this year, the ministry conducted a survey on principals of around 8,000 selected schools, asking questions about assignments that their schools gave students during the school closure period and how they communicated with students. The survey also included questions on how the students have been doing since the school reopening.

The ministry plans to analyze the answers to see whether the closures exacerbated issues for children who were already having problems with tardiness and keeping up with their schoolwork.

In mid-February, the ministry will survey students in fifth grade and eighth grade at the selected schools, as well as their parents, asking questions about learning conditions during and after the school closure, their state of mind and health, their family structure and the parents’ employment situation.

“The nationwide school closure was an unprecedented, historic event,” an official at the ministry said. “We must assess its impact thoroughly.”

The follow-up survey will be conducted this autumn.

The ministry will also use the results of the fiscal 2021 nationwide academic achievement test for the analysis of survey data.

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