Single-sex schools in decline

The number of single-sex schools in Japan has dropped by half in the last 20 years to its lowest point ever, according to a 2011 survey by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry. In 1989 at the start of the Heisei era, there were 1,002 single-sex high schools nationwide.

As of 2011, only 464 such schools remained, accounting for only 9.2 percent of all schools.

A large part of the reason for the change is the shrinking numbers of students. Schools are heavily dependent on entrance exam fees as a source of funding, so becoming coed opens up the possibility of more exam takers, as well as more students. A more fundamental reason, though, is that parents and educators see coeducation as a positive learning environment for students.

Defenders of single-sex institutions claim that segregated classrooms remove distractions and allow boys and girls, who mature at slightly different ages, to study in gender-specific ways. That segregation approach is considered a way of achieving better education by some and as a way of helping women to achieve equality by others. Competition, concentration and different rates of maturing are surely important issues that must be dealt with at every educational institution.

One sign that equality has not been sufficiently achieved through single-sex education is a report from Daigaku Tsushin magazine on university entrance exams. The magazine reports that the top seven high schools in the number of graduates entering the University of Tokyo were all boys schools. An all-girls school ranked eighth.

Entry to one prestigious university may not be the best or only measure of academic success, but the discrepancy points out that benefits accrue more to boys schools than to girls schools.

Girls schools continue to outnumber boys schools 334 to 130. Many of those at single-sex schools may be children of graduates or simply looking for the best education they can find. But, increasingly, parents prefer coed schools as a way to integrate children at a younger age and let them learn from each other. Being in classrooms with people of the opposite sex helps normalize interactions between the sexes.

The hope is that better relations learned at school will help to establish better relations in society.

The challenge for all schools is to find ways to improve education, no matter who is in the classroom. The environment in which students study profoundly affects their personal success and future expectations. Whatever policies a school may follow, though, what will be needed in the future are greater opportunities for interaction, cooperation and mutual respect.