Repairs to digital learning devices place heavy burden on local governments

Courtesy of School Caretaker’s Insurance
A digital learning device with its screen cracked after falling on the floor during a lesson at a primary school

Broken digital learning devices are piling up in schools more than a year after all primary and junior high students began receiving the devices.

There have been a remarkable number of accidents, such as students dropping devices on the floor, and some local governments have had to pay millions of yen every year for repairs.

In the future, local governments and parents may have to bear the costs of regularly replacing devices, and schools are forced to take action to deal with the problem.

40 broken in 4 months

A deputy principal of a municipal school in a Tokyo ward expressed surprise at the scale of the problem, saying, “I didn’t expect so many appliances to break.

Digital learning devices are being provided to the school’s approximately 650 students, and full use of the devices began in the spring of last year.

In the first year, around 60 aircraft were damaged. But this school year, about 40 were damaged between April and July alone.

Most of the damage occurred when students dropped the devices at school or at home, or knocked them against something.

In addition to textbooks, notebooks and other stationery, students now have to store their devices inside their desks.

“There is little free space inside students’ desks, and devices often fall off their desks,” said a teacher in charge of a sixth-grade class at a Tokyo public school.

Although she asked students to treat the devices with care as next year’s first graders will be using the same ones, there was no change in the number of students who accidentally dropped the devices. .

There are also students who have intentionally damaged the devices, although such cases are rare. Last summer, a fifth-grade elementary student scratched the keyboard of a device.

Parents’ burden

When the digital learning devices were distributed to elementary and junior high school students until the end of fiscal 2020, the central government provided subsidies of ¥45,000 per device. But the grants do not cover repair costs.

The government of Kuki City, Saitama Prefecture, where a total of about 11,000 devices are used in primary and secondary schools, has earmarked about 2.6 million yen for the repair costs of 75 devices in the original budget of this exercise.

But in April, it was discovered that about 200 devices had been damaged, and the city government added about 7.7 million yen to the repair budget.

If the number of damaged or defective devices increases at the current rate, the annual cost to the city of repairing them could increase significantly.

Opinion is divided among local governments on whether to require payment from parents for repairing damaged devices.

A municipal elementary school in a Tokyo ward asked a student’s parents to pay about ¥50,000 last year because the student lost a device.

But in another case where a higher-grade student who regularly exhibited erratic behavior threw a device into a classroom and damaged it, the school chose not to seek compensation.

“We don’t have a counter argument if we’re told the teacher should have been more careful,” a school official said.

In Onomichi, Hiroshima Prefecture, there were about 100 cases of damaged learning devices in municipal schools from fiscal year 2019 to fiscal year 2021. The city government paid about ¥800,000 in fees of repair.

In some cases where students have intentionally damaged devices, the city government has asked their parents to pay the costs.

Takasago City, Hyogo Prefecture informs parents or guardians of students that it may seek compensation if students intentionally damage devices. But a city government official said, “This is to avoid instances where a single student damages multiple devices, and in general the city government handles the repair costs.”

Similarly, a city government official in Mino, Osaka Prefecture, said, “Usually the city government bears the repair costs, so parents and guardians don’t think they do not want their children to use the digital devices provided. ”

Covered by insurance

An insurance service to cover these types of learning device accidents has also appeared.

School Keeper Insurance, a Yokohama-based insurance agent, began selling insurance products for accidents involving schools’ digital learning devices in January 2021.

The insurance premium is usually around ¥1,100 per year per device, and parents, often through parent-teacher associations, pay for the service primarily.

So far, about 300 schools and local governments have insured about 50,000 devices, and the company has covered repair costs for about 700 devices.

“It seems to be important to prevent friction between schools and parents,” company president Yasunori Yamashita said, referring to the service.

Shimpei Toyofuku, an associate professor of educational engineering at the International University of Japan and an expert in the use of devices in schools, said: “It is inevitable that parents will have to bear the repair costs depending on the cause of the damage, but it is also necessary for local governments and schools to consult with parents and decide on the rules for the distribution of costs. The central government should also not see the introduction of the devices as an end, and should present some level of policies or guidelines on how to deal with the damage and replacement costs of the devices.

Monstrous replacement costs

In general, used digital devices will need to be replaced with new ones approximately every five years. But the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology has not specified its policy on who will bear the costs of replacing the digital devices distributed to each student. Replacement costs will likely reach hundreds of billions of yen.

In Kawasaki, the city government has leased about 117,000 digital learning devices. The city government assumed about 6 billion yen of the costs while the central government paid nearly 3 billion yen.

The devices will need to be replaced with new ones when the contract expires at the end of fiscal year 2025.

Although the local government is worried about the costs, a ministry official said, “Nothing has been decided yet.”

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