What are the advantages of single sex education? Is single sex education better than coeducation? What does available research have to say about the subject?
We have spent several generations advancing the equality of the sexes. Beginning with the women’s suffrage movement and continuing through to the present day many legal and social barriers to women’s equality with men have been removed. Much progress has been made.
With that in mind coeducation which is based on that laudable theme of equality seems like the right way to go. That’s why most private and public schools use the coeducation model. Most of the time that works well.
On the other hand some research seems to suggest that boys and girls learn in different ways. Research shows that a girl’s brain is different from a boy’s brain. If you accept that premise, coeducation probably will not work satisfactorily for every child. Coeducation does have the advantage of being politically acceptable. Recently public schools have begun to experiment with single sex classes, and, in some cases, single sex schools.
Perhaps the most revealing research on single sex versus coeducation is Single-Sex Versus Coeducational Schooling: A Systematic Review. This study was commissioned by the federal Department of Education and was released in 2005. What were its conclusions? Basically it seems to conclude that there is not enough evidence to suggest single sex education is better than coeducation or vice-versa.
Another national study from UCLA Graduate School of Education & Information Studies claims to show that girls from single sex schools have an edge over their coed peers.
The Right Setting for Your Child
Some children thrive in a single sex school. Why? For one thing, the social pressures can be gentler. Your child can grow at his own pace. This often is a good thing for boys as they mature later than girls.
The faculty at single sex schools understand how their students learn. They adapt their teaching styles to those specific needs. There are other advantages as well. For example, since a single sex school is basically homogeneous, that simplifies planning events and activities as you only have to consider boys or girls as the case may be.
The conventional thinking thirty years ago was that coeducation would somehow break down gender stereotypes. But that didn’t always happen. The proponents of single sex education argue that boys in coeducational settings are less likely to take courses in the arts or tackle advanced academic subjects simply to avoid being typecast as a nerd. Similarly girls avoid the sciences and technology subjects because they don’t want to appear to be tomboys. Single sex schools are flourishing once again as parents realize that allowing their son or daughter to learn in his or her own individual way is a very important consideration in choosing a school.
Three Reasons for Choosing a Single Sex School
Your child’s happiness is one of the most important factors in selecting a school. Equally important is finding a school with inspiring, gifted teachers. But we parents also need to consider three other factors: letting your child be herself, the teaching style and what’s being taught and, finally, the socialization of our children.
Let Them Be Themselves
Boys tend to soften their competitive edge and become more collaborative in a single sex setting. They can just be boys and not worry about what the girls might think. Boys enjoying poetry and playing in an orchestra as opposed to a marching band are the kind of thing you will see in a boys’ school.
Girls drop their shyness and begin to take risks in a single sex setting. They become more competitive. They embrace sports like field hockey and soccer with gusto without worrying about appearing like tom boys.
If the teacher understands how to teach girls, they will quickly feel comfortable exploring non-traditional subjects such as mathematics, advanced sciences, computers and technology, wood-working and so on. Boys participate in choirs and orchestras and learn Latin in single sex settings.
Children will break out of their stereotypical roles and behavior when they are left to their own devices. Single sex education has a delightful way of encouraging children to be fearless, to be curious, to be enthusiastic – in short, to just be themselves.
Children are subjected to an avalanche of pressures from every quarter to become adults before they are ready to do so. They grow up too quickly. Why not let them be children for a few more years? Single sex education with its gentler, more controlled social outlets is just the ticket for many children.
Blended or Co-Institutional Schools
Many Roman Catholic schools offer their own unique approaches to single sex schooling by offering co-institutional or blended schooling. Regis Jesuit High School in Aurora, Colorado, has two distinct high schools operating under the same roof: one for boys, the other for girls. This is the co-institutional approach. St. Agnes and St. Dominic School in Memphis, Tennessee, blends its single sex education with co-educational depending on the grade level involved.
Empathy is an important quality of a teacher. All too often we get carried away with our lesson, especially one we have spent time planning. We can become so caught up in it that we forget to stand back and envisage what it is like to be immersed in our lesson afresh, as a student is; we can forget that learners often come to our class with their heads already spinning. Sometimes, our inability to ease students with some grace into the lesson is comparable to plunging them under a cold shower!
Teaching is about coaxing students to forget their busy outside lives and to prioritise, for just a few hours a week, their language learning. Empathy is one way to interpret and understand how to approach different elements of our planning and teaching. For example, it can explain why we need a logical, staged approach to readings and listenings. When we ask students to look at a new text, it is the teacher or coursebook writer who has selected it, not the student himself or herself (which is radically different from ‘real life’ reading or listening). When we ask learners to begin reading, their minds are often burdened with other thoughts and ideas: urgent tasks they need to do at work; a recent problem conversation they have had; even a classmate’s new hairdo!
Empathising with students can help us to approach longer readings or listenings (and indeed many other aspects of a lesson) in a more student-friendly way. It enables the teacher to step back and stage the lesson gently, in a way which captures the interest and curiosity of the learners; in a way which is accessible.
So, if you sometimes struggle to create a logical lesson, then try using this simple strategy of putting yourself into your students’ shoes.