TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan is unlikely to change its academic year to start in September rather than April in either 2020 or 2021, domestic media said on Thursday, despite calls for reform that advocates say would help internationalise the country’s education system.

Schools closed in Japan in March because of the coronavirus outbreak, stoking concern over the shorter academic year and re-igniting debate over starting it in September, in line with many Western countries.

High-profile politicians like Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike backed reforms, and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) set up a panel to review options.

But Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Monday lifted a state of emergency for Tokyo and four other prefectures, the last remaining region in the country to be subject to restrictions, and many schools are already gradually resuming classes.

The Asahi newspaper quoted Masahiko Shibayama, a former education minister heading the LDP working group, as saying, “Most lawmakers felt that this time, introducing a system to delay the start of the school year by half a year to September … was not a good idea.”

The LDP working group is expected to finalise its recommendations to the government as early as next week.

Public broadcaster NHK also said the view was spreading in the education ministry that an early introduction of a new school year would be difficult.

Advocates have said the September start would make it easier for Japanese college students to study abroad. Critics have cited numerous obstacles and said the focus should be on helping students catch up through online learning and other steps.

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