In his response to an earlier post here, Mark Langager reported that he raised one of my favourite puzzles about juku with undergraduate students at Int’l Christian Univ: why are there no boys’ or girls’ juku?
In some ways, this question neatly sums up one of my theoretical interest in supplementary education.
Educational policy around the world for the past twenty years or so has discovered the market as a cure-all for whatever seems to ill education. The most prominent examples of the introduction of market mechanisms are league tables of schools and universities, various forms of Quality Assessment Exercises, vouchers, charter schools, etc. Where researchers have attempted to assess the impact of this introduction of market mechanisms, the results have generally been mixed. Chris Lubienski at the Univ of Illinois has written extensively about this assessment.
In response, the proponents of the marketization of education have often complained that various implementations – such as vouchers – have not gone far enough in creating ‘real’ markets.
As I have argued elsewhere, juku in metropolitan Japan are pretty close to a real consumer market. Purchase of juku services is entirely voluntary, the juku are run for-profit and would-be consumers have access to a plethora of information about the offers available. Parents and students in metropolitan regions also don’t shy away from long commuting distances. Notably, the supplementary education industry in Japan is entirely unregulated.
Consumers active in this market (aka parents/保護者, students) express their consumer choice by enrolling in single-sex schools in significant numbers at the upper primary and secondary level. Note that this is an expression of consumer preference in the not-so-quite marketized conventional school system.
Yet, despite this expressed consumer preference, the supplementary education industry does not offer single-sex options, i.e. there are no girls’ or boys’ juku.
I will return to this question periodically, I imagine, as I really am puzzled by it.
As Mark Langager mentioned, his students speculated that juku operators would not want to limit their potential customer base by focusing on girls or boys only.
If juku had a very limited geographic area to draw on (this is, of course, true for more and more owner-operated juku in metropolitan regions) or if they generally had very large number of students, I would agree entirely. It thus doesn’t seem plausible for a chain to market itself as a girls-only juku chain, thus excluding a large number of potential customers.
Staying with the example of a very large juku, however, why not offer boys-only classes within the juku? Classes are often subdivided according to academic abilities in such large juku.
On the other hand, in a smaller, owner-operated juku, why not exploit a single-sex focus as a viable market niche, again given the expressed consumer preference for single-sex education?
Interestingly, when I have posed this question to groups of juku operators in the past, they’ve been largely puzzled and have not been able to offer any explanations.
More on this to come…