Photo/Illutration A teacher assigns homework to students at home via tablet computer on March 3 at Nishihara Elementary School in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward. (Tomoko Yamashita)

Teachers have quickly adapted to the nationwide school shutdown by coming up with innovative and so far effective methods to educate their students online.

They have formed support networks on the internet to share study materials and provide instructions to children at their homes since schools were closed on the government’s request to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“The classes will be called off, but ‘Nishihara Smart School’ is just about to open,” Hideaki Teshirogi, principal of Nishihara Elementary School in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, declared in a school letter issued at the end of February.

The ward office has lent tablet computers to all 8,500 or so students who attend public elementary and junior high schools in the ward so that teaching can continue during the emergency shutdown.

For Nishihara Elementary School’s fifth-graders, teachers upload messages in a shared folder, which pupils access, at 9 a.m. each day on their tablets.

The pupils had a plethora of questions about the new teaching method on March 2, the first day of the school closures.

The children are expected to complete their assigned homework, take pictures of their accomplishments and send them to their personal folders for teachers to check.

“I like it because we can update information at any time and answer questions from students on a real-time basis,” Taku Meikan, a 35-year-old teacher at the school, said.

Shizuoka Seiko Gakuin Junior Senior High School in the city of Shizuoka decided to stay open by maintaining online “school functions.”

Homeroom classes will be held in the morning and in the evening by having homeroom teachers talk to the students face-to-face via iPads.

Bunan Senior High School in Warabi, Saitama Prefecture, has provided tablet computers for each first-year student.

The school closed on March 3, but teachers have given students video lessons and quizzes through the tablets.

The system has enabled teachers to easily keep an eye on each student’s progress and how well they do on the tests.

Many teachers are now sharing study materials and ideas on the internet regarding “how to make students learn while schools are closed.”

The shared items include a list of websites dedicated to cooking and recipes as well as video channels that introduce books that are popular among children.

Osamu Ikeda, a professor of educational methods at Kyoto Tachibana University, had called for the effort.

“I wanted us to rack our brains to give children a way to learn while having fun, rather than just telling them to do workbooks,” Ikeda said. “I hope that in the future we can look back and say, ‘That was a fun month.’”

The economy ministry has set up a website for elementary, junior high and high schools and their students. It introduces new ways to teach and free study apps and materials offered by companies and groups in the education field.

(This article was written by Asako Miyasaka, Tomoko Yamashita and Mayumi Ujioka, senior staff writer.)