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The number of elementary, junior and senior high school students who killed themselves in Japan hit a record high of 479 in 2020, up sharply from 339 the previous year, amid the COVID-19 pandemic, education ministry data shows.

While key reasons cited for suicides remained the same as in past years, the ministry will carry out a detailed analysis to see whether the pandemic has had an impact on the rise in students taking their own lives.

The ministry has also kicked off its first extensive survey of how students were affected by nationwide school closures implemented last spring to combat the virus, handing out questionnaires to principals of 8,000 elementary and junior high schools, as well as to students and their parents.

Japan will reduce the maximum number of students per class at public elementary schools to 35 from the current 40. | KYODO
Japan will reduce the maximum number of students per class at public elementary schools to 35 from the current 40. | KYODO

Meanwhile, bullying cases recognized by schools in Japan in the last academic year grew by some 60,000 over fiscal 2018 to a record 612,496, the ministry says. The number rose for the sixth straight year and has grown about threefold in that period, led by a sharp increase at elementary schools.

On the plus side, teachers at public elementary schools should soon have fewer students to watch over, after the government adopted a bill this month to reduce the maximum class size to 35 by fiscal 2025 from the current 40.

The bill calls for reducing the class size for the second grade in fiscal 2021, which begins in April, the third grade in fiscal 2022, and so on. The maximum class size was already reduced to 35 for the first grade in fiscal 2011.

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