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87% of Japan's pref. education boards scrap gender section on high school application forms

Examinees are seen taking an exam for Tokyo-run high schools in this unrelated file photo. (Mainichi/Naotsune Umemura)

TOKYO -- More education boards in Japan are giving consideration to sexual minorities such as transgender people, with boards of education in 41 of Japan's 47 prefectures eliminating the gender section on application forms for prefectural high school entrance exams in the 2020 school year.

    The Mainichi Shimbun polled prefectural education boards from mid- to late June, and received answers from all of them. Of the 41 prefectures that did not have a gender section on their application forms in the 2020 academic year, Iwate, Miyagi, Toyama, Ishikawa, Hyogo, Kagoshima and Okinawa prefectures had discontinued the practice for the first time that school year. Osaka and Fukuoka prefectures abolished the column in academic 2018, and the remaining 32 prefectures did so from the 2019 academic year.

    When asked why they made the change, most education boards cited "sexual minorities and sexual diversity" and "consideration toward students who do not want to specify their gender"

    The Kochi Prefectural Board of Education explained, "Some people who apply do not define their gender as the sex they were born with. We thought of giving consideration to those students."

    An example of an application form used by Tokyo-run high schools in 2020 school year is seen with a gender section in this image taken from the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education's official website.

    Moves to review administrative forms were also cited as a reason, with the Saitama Prefectural Board of Education, commenting, "As part of reviews of unnecessary gender sections on application forms and notification forms throughout the prefecture, it was also eliminated from prefectural high school entrance exams." The Osaka Prefectural Board of Education, meanwhile, stated, "In Osaka Prefecture, we conducted inspections and reviews of gender sections on all administrative documents from 2018 to 2019."

    Fifteen education boards said they abolished the gender sections as the information was unnecessary for entrance exams. The Kyoto Prefectural Board of Education answered, "We will only collect information from applicants that is actually essential for the selection of new students."

    When asked about the pros and cons of abolishing the gender section, 40 of the 41 education boards said that there weren't any demerits, or that there were only merits.

    The Mie Prefectural Board of Education eliminated the gender section for high school exam applications in 2019 school year. According to a survey of all 153 public junior high schools and 67 prefectural high schools in the prefecture, 98.7% of junior high schools and 86.6% of high schools answered "there were no particular problems" with the change.

    Many respondents, mostly junior high schools, said the movement "is meaningful as an initiative that gives consideration to applicants' human rights."

    Most education boards used dossiers as an alternative method to verify the applicants' genders. A dossier is a document, which has a gender section, compiled by junior high school teachers on the student's grades and learning attitude, and is submitted to the high school that the student applies to.

    The Shimane Prefectural Board of Education states that it will confirm an examinee's sex on the gender section of the dossier or an applicant list "when special consideration is required by sex in the enrollment selection process, such as when the examinee is sent to a hospital due to poor health during testing, or when a changing room is required."

    Prefectural education boards in Yamagata, Tochigi, Gunma, Chiba, Tokyo and Shizuoka said they confirmed examinees' genders on application forms. Of the six, four education boards except for Chiba and Tokyo plan to abolish the gender section in entrance exams from 2021 school year. The Chiba Prefectural Board of Education says it is "considering whether to eliminate the gender section," and has been accepting applications even if the gender section is "blank or crossed out" starting from exams in the 2019 academic year.

    A teacher at a Tokyo-run high school, right, and Kanagawa University associate professor Noboru Hirayama are seen speaking in favor of the gradual abolishment of separate enrollment caps for male and female students in metropolitan high schools, in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward on June 9, 2021. (Mainichi)

    The Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education explained it is confirming the examinees' genders on application forms because "full-time regular courses in metropolitan high schools have a system to allow fixed numbers of male and female students." Tokyo-run high schools are the only prefectural high schools in Japan that have fixed numbers of students based on their sex.

    Though the Tokyo education board states it is "taking individual measures, such as allowing the examinee to take exams as the gender of their choice based on an application from the examinee or their guardians," the measures have not been made public.

    One 19-year-old beauty school student in Tokyo was assigned male at birth, but has lived as a female since childhood, and went to a junior high school in a girl's uniform. She chose to learn at high school evening classes so she can work part-time to pay her tuition and also because there were no swimming classes.

    However, when taking the exam, there was a section asking her if she is male or female, and she was at loss over which she should choose. After consulting with her parents, they concluded that there was no choice but to submit the application as a male. She says she didn't know the Tokyo education board was taking individual measures.

    While she says the education board's response to look at individual cases makes her feel like its understanding of the issue is improving, she also argued, "It makes me question why the examinee has to choose (either male or female). I want them to understand that some find it painful to choose between the two, and that there are more genders than just male and female."

    A Tokyo education board official in charge of entrance exams told the Mainichi Shimbun, "For the time being, we believe that we have no choice but to have a gender section in application forms as long as we have separate enrollment caps for male and female students. Since there are various opinions (regarding the issue), we want to handle each case as flexibly as possible."

    (Japanese original by Kohei Chiwaki, Tokyo City News Department)

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