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'E-school' targets unhappy truants;International News;News and opinion

JAPAN

A HIGH school in cyberspace is recruiting from the legions of bullied and disenchanted Japanese children who cannot face another day in class.

Atmark Inter school will this month launch its own on-line curriculum leading to a US high-school graduation certificate.

"The Japanese educational system will be revolutionised by this Internet school," said Atmark's president Kozo Hino.

"Using the Internet as a tool we want to promote motivated learning. And we will approve all experiences in the daily lives of students as credits."

The school, which is not accountable to Japanese authorities, charges nearly pound;7,000 a year. Students need 19 credits for graduation; each credit involves 150 "creative hours" with no time-limit on completion.

This is not Hino's first foray into web-based education. In 1997 he established the Internet high school "Kaze" aimed specifically at what he claims to be the "millions of students" who refuse to go to school in Japan.

Hino is now expanding the concept of Kaze and said that when Atmark opens in April 2000, it will welcome not only children who refuse to go to school, but any student who wishes to learn by him or herself.

Atmark's sister school in the United States is the private Alger in Washington, which has supported thousands of children learning at home since the 1970s. There has also been a rapid increase recently in the number of other "e-schools" in the US.

According to the e-school philosophy, remote learning needn't mean leaving the student alone. Support teachers are available to give advice and guidance.

Japan's latest e-school may prove popular. Ministry of education figures show a record 128,000 elementary and junior high-school students skipped school for more than 30 days in 1998 - a rise of more than 20 per cent on the previous year.

Critics say these alarming figures are artificially low because few schools are willing to admit to the extent of the truancy problem.

While Japanese law does not require pupils to attend school, social pressure makes non-attendance unthinkable for most.

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