The Yomiuri Shimbun (Apr. 23, 2012)
Reflecting the nation’s declining birthrate, the number of single-sex schools in the country has decreased dramatically, according to a 2011 poll by the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry.

There were 464 schools attended by only male or female students nationwide, according to the survey. Single-gender schools account for less than 10 percent of all schools, and their number is half of what it was 20 years ago.

The decline is mainly due to a shift at many schools to coeducation to attract more students amid the low birthrate.

Despite the decrease, boys schools still rank high in terms of the number of successful applicants to top-notch universities, highlighting an advantage of single-sex education.

At the beginning of the Heisei era (1989 to present), the country had far more boys schools, known as “bankara” (rudeness) schools, and girls schools, poetically called “otome no sono” (maiden’s garden). In 1991, there were 1,002 single-sex high schools, accounting for 18.2 percent of the total.

However, this figure had fallen to below 10 percent in 2008. In 2011, there were 464 single-sex high schools nationwide–130 for boys and 334 for girls, accounting for 9.2 percent.

Formerly an all-male school, Meguro-Gakuin Junior and Senior High School in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, had begun suffering a decline. As the student population failed to recover, the school became coeducational in 2011.

“We had no choice but to become coeducational to boost the number of applicants and students,” Takemi Matsumoto, the school’s executive director, said.

The school had about 390 applicants in 2010. After becoming coed, this number shot up to about 660 in 2011. The number of applicants further increased to 766 in 2012.

Entrance exam fees are an important source of funding for private schools. Becoming coeducational means potentially doubling the number of students qualified to take an entrance exam.

“The number of both female and male students has increased. I think becoming coeducational led to the boost,” Matsumoto said.

According to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey, at least four private high schools went coed this spring.

“As many parents today went to coeducational schools, they strongly prefer them, with the exception of some top-notch schools,” said an official at Ichishin Gakuin, based in Bunkyo Ward, Tokyo, which runs cram schools in the Kanto region.

On the other hand, single-sex schools, which are now a minority, have an advantage in terms of the advancement rate to prestigious universities.

Educational consultant Toshimi Nakai held a symposium on single-sex education in Tokyo last year.

“From late primary school to middle school, girls develop faster than boys both physically and mentally,” Nakai, 53, said. “So it’s inefficient for boys and girls to take the same classes together because their mental ages are different.

“Single-sex high schools always rank high in the list of successful applicants to the University of Tokyo,” Nakai added. “It also has been shown that in Britain and South Korea students in single-sex schools tend to perform better academically [than their counterparts in coed schools].”

According to a survey by Daigaku Tsushin, an information magazine on university entrance exams, the top seven high schools among successful University of Tokyo applicants in 2012 were boys schools–including Kaisei, Nada and Azabu high schools. All-girls school Oin Gakuen ranked eighth in the list.

Explaining the advantage of boys schools, Yukio Yanagisawa, principal of Kaisei Junior and Senior High Schools, in Tokyo, said, “Boys can concentrate more on their studies when they aren’t having to compete against female students, who develop faster in middle school.”

Year after year Kaisei high school tops the list of schools whose students who pass the University of Tokyo entrance exams.

“By looking at the example set by older students of the same sex, students can figure out what they want to be in the future at an early stage, which enables them to situate themselves and make efforts toward realizing their vision,” Yanagisawa explains.

“The need for single-sex schools has never been greater than in our time. We’ll continue to remain a boys school even if we become the last one,” he added.