The proportion of elementary, junior high and high school students with less-than-normal visual acuity have reached record highs, a fiscal 2022 education ministry survey showed Tuesday.

The shares of students with uncorrected vision of less than 1.0 on the Japanese scale, equivalent to 20/20 vision, were highest at all three groups, although simple comparisons with past data were difficult because of differences in survey periods due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Changes in environment surrounding schoolchildren, such as increases in the amount of time spent using smartphones at home, can be considered as a cause," an official of the ministry said.

The survey has been conducted annually since fiscal 1948. The fiscal 2022 survey covered some 3.2 million children mainly at kindergartens and elementary, junior high and senior high schools across the country to check their growth and health statuses.

It is usually conducted between April and June. But the survey period has been extended to the end of March every year since the outbreak of COVID-19.

The share of students with vision of less than 1.0 stood at 37.88% at elementary schools, up from 36.87% in the fiscal 2021 survey, at 61.23% at junior high schools, up from 60.66%, and at 71.56% at high schools, up from 70.81%.

By grade, the share at elementary schools was 23.20% for first graders and 53.19% for sixth graders. At junior high schools, the proportion came to 55.64% for students in the first year and 65.65% for those in the third year.