EDUCATION | Cyber High School Will Allow Students To Attend Via Avatars (WSJ Oct 24, 2015)
By John d’Amico

A high school in Japan will allow students to attend via virtual avatar starting next spring.

Meisei Cyber, an initiative of private Meisei High School in Chiba prefecture, said it would offer classes and tests via computer, smartphone or tablet in a three-year high school curriculum.

Students will watch prerecorded lectures from Meisei’s teaching staff, each running around 25 minutes. For four days per year, students must attend schooling at Meisei in person. The rest of the year, students are free to study at their own pace, and they can adopt an avatar as their identity just as videogamers would do in a role-playing game. In their free time, students can communicate in the guise of their avatar with other students, perhaps to “consult on studying or tests” or “enjoy student life,” according to Meisei’s website.

By taking classes and minitests, students can build up points with which they can buy new accessories for their avatar from a virtual store. The virtual school also features fishing spots and a farm, where students can play games.

Besides its cyber academy, Meisei offers typical all-day high school classes and a high school correspondence course. Whether students attend classes full-time, by conventional correspondence course or through the cyber academy, they obtain the same high school graduation credentials, according to Meisei’s official website.

Meisei spokesman Kota Hasegawa said in an interview that a virtual academy might help students uncomfortable with the idea of attending a day school earn a high school degree.

“Many students, for a variety of reasons—whether work, stalking or difficulty with groups of people—have a hard time getting out of the house to school,” he said. “Although I think face-to-face communication and education is the best thing, through Meisei Cyber students can go and take a small step forward with working on that difficulty through online communication and chat.”

The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology reported that 2.5% of high school students last year did not regularly attend school. Less than half of nonattending high school students do so for economic or health reasons, according to the ministry. Bullying might explain some of the other absences, with the ministry reporting 55,248 bullying cases in middle school and 11,039 in high school.

A Meisei spokeswoman said normal annual tuition for the cyber academy will be ¥180,000 yen ($1,670), with lower-income students eligible for scholarships and free three-year tuition available for some students entering in the first year.

Online learning is nothing new in Japan. The University of Tokyo, Japan’s top-ranked university, offers online courses in English through Coursera, an online education platform. Preparatory schools for entrance exams, called juku, also put class material and lessons online.

Classes at Meisei Cyber are set to begin in April 2015.