Single-Sex Education: Pros and Cons

It has long been the case that boys and girls being educated together was considered to be the most effective way to socialize kids and help them to learn together. However, in recent years, there have been a number of issues identified for both boys and girls in education.

 Whether it is encouraging girls to get an education that is free of the pressures that come with co-ed schools or helping boys to overcome their deficits in reading, there have been a number of voices raised in support of returning to single-sex education. These advocates of single-sex education believe that when you keep the genders together, you deprive them of the best chances for quality academic results for all of the reasons stated above.

Defenders of the co-education model point out that boys and girls are better socialized when they learn together. They also claim that assumptions about gender and how boys and girls learn are based on stereotypical ideas about what is masculine and what is feminine and are too rigidly defined to serve as good guidelines for teaching.

This debate cuts right to the core of what a society believes is best for its children when it comes to education.

Pros of Single-Sex Education

Helps to Improve Educational Outcomes

Some studies have suggested that both boys and girls do better in single-sex classrooms when it comes to academic outcomes. A British government-backed study of exam results amongst 13-15 year olds showed that girls who attended all-female comprehensive schools made better progress than those who attended mixed schools.

There is strong evidence that boys are lagging behind when it comes to reading. Advocates of single-sex education point out that when boys are in a classroom where the education is focused on them, their results seem to improve. The theory is that boys are more likely to be interested in reading and writing stories that allow them to express themselves more freely.

Reduces Tensions Between Boys and Girls

At the high school level, supporters of single-sex education claim that anecdotal results point to both boys and girls feeling more comfortable. The idea is that when boys and girls aren't trying to impress each other and attract each other, there is more focus on learning and on socializing in ways that are more comfortable. There are claims that both genders become less concerned about their appearance and more concerned about results and academics. This area seems to be poorly researched. The only evidence that really exists to support the claims is purely anecdotal and therefore not necessarily reliable.

Tailors Education to Gender-Specific Needs 

Another argument made by supporters of single-sex education is that boys and girls learn differently and express themselves differently so they need to be taught in different ways. The claim is that when a classroom is mixed-gender, neither boys nor girls is able to learn in a way that best suits them. Many of these claims are difficult to test except to say there is anecdotal evidence.

Single-Sex Education - The Cons

Promotes Gender Inequality

One criticism of single-sex education is that the separation of girls from boys may result in stereotypes being reinforced especially for boys. The notion that they need to be separate because they are quite different and learn in quite different ways could go some distance towards reinforcing the idea that boys and girls have deep psychological differences and therefore, girls may not have the same value as boys because they don't learn in the same ways. This might be especially true in societies that are traditionally patriarchal where the differences are already strictly enforced.

Discourages Socialization Between Peers

Critics of single-sex education point out that segregating the boys from the girls makes it more difficult for male and female students to interact and learn how to interact with one another. The idea is that girls and boys stand a better chance of interacting well when they spend more time around each other. If they're segregated, the exposure to each other drops and may result in difficulties later on when the barriers are abruptly dropped.

Makes Assumptions about Gender Roles

Another issue raised about single-sex education is that it discounts the fact that not every girl or every boy is the same. Many single-sex education advocates promote the idea that boys want to be typically "masculine" and that their interests will fall in certain areas and that girls want to learn in a more "feminine" way. This encourages traditional stereotypes about gender roles and might result in students who are extremely uncomfortable with being in a classroom where their particular self-expression might be discouraged. There would be an issue if a particular student doesn't conform to the stereotypes of what interests are male-focused and what might interest women.


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