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University students attending virtual classes struggle with isolation

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By Manami Misono

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Mio Shinkawa, a sophomore who attends a private university in Tokyo, took all her classes virtually in her first year and failed to make a single new friend.

Too bad Mio.

Because of Covid-Zero, you're going to have to resign yourself to a life of staring at a digital screen.

Your only human contact will be the Uber deliver guy... oh wait, that'll soon be a drone.

Look at the bright side though, at least you won't test positive on the PCR.

2 ( +17 / -15 )

Awful. For the love of god, let them go back to university and live their lives,

-1 ( +11 / -12 )

As much as I get it, if this is enough to cause these people that much stress and anxiety they are in for a very long and sad life.

I don't want to sound dismissive and I get it, this stuck in the house 24/7 is maddening ( I live and work from home and my only socialisation before covid were meeting up at night or weekends with friends) so yes I get it. But this is nowhere near the worst thing or most stressful thing to happen in my life, nor is it the worst and most stressful thing to happen to my wife, my now 2 adult children, and basically most people I know.

Sadly You will encounter things far worse in life, unexpected deaths of loved ones, cancers, divorce, loss of many things you have no control over.

This is their first serious challenge in life and it will pass but plenty more are on their way over their next 60+ years they have to live, buckle up it's a long strange trip!

10 ( +17 / -7 )

Bush- agree. At some point you have to learn to live with life's hazards, like walking, riding a bike, trains, traffic, people, other disease, etc. Stay healthy and enjoy life!

2 ( +9 / -7 )

The way its described may be melodramatic, but the students are right. There have been hundreds of posts on JT about trains being full. They are full of people whose lives have not been affected as much as these students. No-one out there needs a PCR test every month to go to work or go shopping, so why should a student need one to do drama? I guess the answer is the university fearing for its reputation, in a society where people are quick to blame the sick for their illnesses.

Japan is not a society where people get countless opportunities to make friends. University is where lots of people make friends for life. Often the friends people will make as adults are just (insert hobby) nakama (companions) who drift apart when they stop doing (hobby). By comparison, friends from the handball club at school or college will be friends for life, long after they stop playing handball.

2 ( +4 / -2 )

My son is graduating early from a University in Tokyo next month. Over the past year, over 90% of his classes have been online, and while he was fortunate to be there prior to COVID, it's been rough, but he and his friends, and new one's too, are in a mountain climbing club.

They get tested prior to an outing, and now all are fully vaccinated as well, thanks to the university, and nearly every weekend, they take trips outside of Tokyo and "hit the mountains".

There are ways to get involved, and in my opinion, far too many kids here, do not know how to communicate or socialize, on their own, they need someone to lead them around and tell them what to do.

11 ( +11 / -0 )

@ Antiquesaving

It's a shame and regrettable that many young Japanese wouldn't be able to absorb and process your irrefutably wise observations on the hardships and heartaches that are part and parcel of human life. They will first have to graduate from life's "university of hard knocks" before they can learn the lessons you mention. My simple, consoling thought is that as long as I and my loved ones are spared the ravages of the virus we should be humble enough to experience a feeling of deep gratitude. That ought to be the first step in dealing with any mental issues that might emerge as collateral damage from Covid.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

failed to make a single new friend

She must have pretty bad teachers. If you’re in zoom classes it’s not so difficult to have students interact daily with each other

3 ( +5 / -2 )

It's telling that a story like this rarely makes "Top Story"...

in a society where people are quick to blame the sick for their illnesses.

While I do agree, it's the western keyboard-mashers that have been the most vocal about "irresponsible people" living their lives or not wearing a mask etc during this whole thing.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

To bad for them but luckily many, if not most, have parents to pay for their everyday needs so its not a necessity they go out everyday for school or work.

School is not work..... schools should close before before business are closed. I realize its difficult for kids/families/parents and it may have medium/long term effects but its a much more serious matter if the parents arnt allowed to work which immediately affects the entire family.

School teachers & staff would be impacted but again its better than shutting down and entire country/economy by having these ridiculous SOE's or the newly proposed locked down.

Not being able to pay rent, pay electric or gas, insurance, taxes, or not being able to by food.... all are a higher priority than not going to school/college for a year or two.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Young people seem to be getting weaker & weaker over time, clearly some of the issues are with themselves, work on those & then things will get better

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

PCR tests are still too expensive here and should be free for students, paid for by the university.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

I did not pay for university to make friends. Maybe that it why many Japanese universities have poor reputations.

Online classes have only put a spotlight on the poor quality of education in many Japanese universities. Most of the time, students simply need to attend class to pass. Teachers going as far as to make 80-100 an A, 70-79 a B, 60-69 a C.

They do not offer Ds. I was shocked when I heard about that.

In theory, a student could attend face-to-face classes and still not make friends!

5 ( +7 / -2 )

PCR tests are still too expensive here and should be free for students, paid for by the university.

Think about just who pays and supports the universities here! Even if it were paid by the university, it would be "paid" for by either students themselves, through added fees, or by the taxpayers, you and me, because the taxpayers money funds schools here too.

So in effect, your suggestion is nonsense.

Oh and PCR tests, are not that expensive, anyone can get one, for roughly 2,000 yen or less. The people who are paying 15,000 or more, are getting tested at sites that are for people who need to travel overseas and are getting them at government authorized facilities and get documentation as well of the results.

Also, people who get tested "officially" through their health centers, get the test for free, well at taxpayers expense.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

They do not offer Ds. I was shocked when I heard about that.

Yeah they "offer" D's, but if a student gets one, they can not pass on to the next grade.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

As a compromise.... I will be a couple college students 'friend' if their parents agree to pay my back rent for the last SOE/lock downs when I was not allowed to work.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

They are going to have to get used to it. Japans inaction toward the spread of the virus has created a runaway pandemic that is going to take months, possibly years to control. The vaccine does not stop the spread of the virus. It only lessens the effects.

4 ( +6 / -2 )

The Japanese national govt. and NHK has kept those 20,000 suicides of last year off the daily fear-porn news. Broken down on a daily basis, and properly spun with stats ... about 55 deaths per day. The corporate nation-state is led by some pretty bright, and morally corrupt minds. They should soon be able to figure out a way to further concentrate their power and make money off those deaths and the 'mental sickness' that causes it.

-6 ( +4 / -10 )

I feel sad for this kid, but university students aren't the same as high school students. They have part-time jobs, club activities, live with family members, and generally speaking for large universities in Japan-are much more crowded and almost impossible to control and socially distance compared to HS. Not to mention half of them are old enough to go out drinking. It's a very different situation, which is why it needs to be treated differently.

As for her classes, I agree with @ExtraPat that her teachers must really be phoning it in if all her classes are just lecture style Zoom, and there's no one with their cameras on or breakout rooms. In my online classes, I require everyone to have their cameras on and mute off or they lose points for attendance. Not to mention I go around to each breakout room, talk to students, and check that they're on task. It's a huge pain in the ass, from a teaching standpoint, but I've also heard in feedback from students that this is their only time they meet other students and they enjoy the classes. My classes and the other English teachers in my department doing this style have also had higher ratings than the other classes.

Anyways, I know this is not feasible for a 300+ student class, but at least having some event once a month on campus, socially-distanced with masks, would be safe for students and help them a little with the isolation. This particular girl sounds like she's depressed, and there should also be counseling available for the students. But, until vaccination is more widely spread, I can't imagine universities opening up soon. It's just ripe for a major outbreak.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

Mio Shinkawa, a sophomore who attends a private university in Tokyo, took all her classes virtually in her first year and failed to make a single new friend.

I'll be her friend! But seriously this is a tragedy. When I started college I made at least half of my college friends the first semester from the shared dormitory and classes, and having a sense of solidarity in our new experience living away from home. For my son this situation started in his 3rd year of university and fortunately he had already made a lot of friends. Have some compassion folks.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

From the students' perspective, it's clearly a raw deal: lost socialization, lowering of educational quality and increased screen time (above their previous heavy-usage of smartphones, which impacts their physical health).

From the policy-maker's perspective it's a justifiable sacrifice: K-12 students need to be cared for while parents work, and also, younger students' movements can be better controlled by parents after school.

University students, by nature, are highly mobile. So, to 'immobilize' them to a degree, by keeping them online, reduces a giant amount of foot traffic (commuting to/from uni.) and underscores society's expectation that they prepare for an even more stark transition to a covid-workplace. The computer skills will be a core skill set in the next ten-year projection for university graduates' post-grad employment environment.

So, as onerous as it is for the innocent student, this is, in my opinion, the best that can be drummed up on the fly, as it has been for educators these last one-and-a-half years.

Personally, I put my 400+ university students into study groups of 3-5 students that are shuffled 2-3 times a semester. These 'study pods' help each other out of class with homework/projects and give social and emotional support to each other: there are ways to increase teacher know-how in tech and classroom management skills to improve the learner experience: but what we are all seeing (and teaching) is 'emergency remote teaching', which almost no one had any training in.

It will take another good chunk of time before administrators/faculties systematize such training and issue clearer guidelines for online learning. Until then it is a rough ride for students, teachers and parents alike.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Welcome to the Covid era Mio.

College is worthless without the social interactions.

better off saving your money and start working already. Gain life experience instead.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

YubaruToday  09:08 am JST

My son is graduating early from a University in Tokyo next month. 

Awesome! Congratulations to your son and yourself and missus!!!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

My daughter started at senior high in April and is in a girls-only dorm. The common room has been closed for over a year now, the kids are not allowed to talk in the corridors, and she gets two penalty points for going in another girl's room, even just to collect something. The penalty for staying out all night (e.g. going to a bar, love hotel, etc.) is one point. The room she is in is a double room, but has been professionally partitioned off a single door, so she has no contact with her room mate.

The above rules are enforced by kids dobbing on each other, so it sounds like they get strictly enforced in dorms with nasty sempai and not enforced in others. My daughter has made friends, but they have to go off campus to talk to each other. After school, they sit in their rooms in the same building and chat on LINE.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

They might as well just quit university and get a job to wait out the panic

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

There are university students out there leading social lives now.

This article is misleading..

0 ( +0 / -0 )

YubaruToday  09:08 am JST

My son is graduating early from a University in Tokyo next month. Over the past year, over 90% of his classes have been online, and while he was fortunate to be there prior to COVID, it's been rough, but he and his friends, and new one's too, are in a mountain climbing club.

They get tested prior to an outing, and now all are fully vaccinated as well, thanks to the university, and nearly every weekend, they take trips outside of Tokyo and "hit the mountains".

There are ways to get involved, and in my opinion, far too many kids here, do not know how to communicate or socialize, on their own, they need someone to lead them around and tell them what to do.

Am so glad your son is out there living.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

While I feel for this student, and the isolation she's feeling is obviously real, as others have said, this is something out of our control that has happened, as things do in life, and on a personal level, you need to learn how to deal with things you can't control.

Of course the other thing it shows up is the absolute paralysis of Japanese society, that it can't adapt, be creative and find ways around the challenges. I come across students who have been stuck in Zoom lectures with little chance for interaction. Of course they are isolated, bored, frustrated! It's a year and a half now, this is plenty long enough for university administrations to get up to speed, listen to the students, call on them to help, and figure out ways to socialise more online. If the oyajis are too clueless to think up new things, I'm sure the students could. Of course security online is an issue, but there could be much more online socialising, mental health support, practical counselling for students in financial difficulty, and as others have said, ways to develop some safe f2f meeting up for outdoor activities.

It's not all-or-nothing, black or white, in person or online. Bejasus, be a bit creative! Young people have a lot of energy, a lot of time on their hands, they should be reasonably tech savvy by now, rope them in to finding solutions. This is an opportunity!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This is a very sad story which proves the madness of the lockdown response to Covid. Covid is not a serious disease for young people. The death rate for that demographic is virtually zero. There is no reason at all why they should not be allowed to mingle and enjoy their lives.

Besides, whatever happened to the concepts of freedom and personal choice? Those students who are afraid of the disease can stay home and learn online, and those who prefer to attend lectures in person should be allowed to do so. Voila - everybody's happy! Life is much better without coercion and oppression.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

University is also about preparing for live ahead, what better way than to learn about how to deal with the situation now. I guess it depends upon the student - some who really wish to "Study" won't really know the difference, they're too engrossed in their studies ... which is, after all what University was all about - originally.... not some big party social affair as it's being made out to be by some.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

(sorry ... "life ahead")

0 ( +0 / -0 )

My daughter started at senior high in April and is in a girls-only dorm. The common room has been closed for over a year now, the kids are not allowed to talk in the corridors

The whole situation sounds terrible. COVID has brought out extremists at both end - the anti-vax crowd, but also those who crave power over the lives of others.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

I feel sorry for the youngins missing out on the parties and what not, but if they feel isolated because of what's going on that is of their own doing -- surely they had friends before they thought universities would force new friends upon them.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Many of these students’ teachers would’ve had the option to teach face to face in 2nd semester last year but instead chose to avail themselves of the Zoom option instead. They figured why head back to the classroom when schools were making it so easy for them with the zen minimalist option of 60 minute online lessons, little or no school oversight of how individual teachers were teaching those classes, zero commute to worry about, and resultant simplified assessment. Many teachers intend to continue milking it for all it’s worth regardless of the fact that vaccine unavailability is no longer a valid reason for not presenting for face to face.

And then there is the matter of universities pandering to students who elect not to attend face to face. All those students in the story are presented as ‘victims’ when in reality there are also willing victims, students relieved at not having to attend face to face lessons, unperturbed about having less opportunity to make friends which their choice entails. Fear of catching Covid, their ace in the whole for dispensing with the commute and all the rest. At one school I teach, other teachers have told me that 客さんは神様 extends to it being totally OK for students to keep their camera off during online lessons. In one face to face class I teach, five students lodged the requisite form for those who wished to take the class remotely. When I made it clear that the remote option would be no easy ride, they all elected to come to class!

1 ( +2 / -1 )

Tens of thousands of students all over the world are in the same boat.

This generation of students will all have something that will bond them forever.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

This zoomer generation of students don't know how lucky they are: they have more time on their hands to engage in real study (like reading books that would help them grow up to be knowledgeable, literate and emotionally mature) and lucky to have less time to fritter away with frivolous chatter and other time-wasting pursuits. They would have nothing to complain about if they spared a thought for that generation of Japanese students who were tricked by phony patriotic propaganda or forcibly drafted by the fascist military regime to endure the hellish years of WW2 ending up either dead or mentally scarred for life. Perspective can really help.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The problem I have is my daughter can talk to her friends all she likes, so long as they leave the campus and give Starbucks 600 yen each for a frappucino. They are not allowed to talk to each other in the common room or corridors of their own dorm. That would actually be far safer than Starbucks, since there would be no mixing with other people, using toilets used by other people, consuming something made by another person, etc. etc.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

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