A total of 244,940 students at elementary and junior high schools across Japan were absent for 30 days or more in fiscal 2021, up 24.9% from a year earlier and marking the highest level on record, government data showed Thursday.

A total of 71,704 students absent for 30 days or more due to concerns about COVID-19 infections were not included in the figure.

Even so, the education ministry believes the surge in the number of students absent may be attributable to the COVID-19 pandemic.