A friend of mine was surprised by her husband’s desire to enroll their four year old daughter in an all girls school. Like her, many others too who had themselves studied in a co-ed school were surprised. Co-ed schools are the norm today because gender equality is our aim. But the advantages of single sex education too cannot be ruled out completely. Both the systems of education have their advantages and disadvantages. It is a matter of personal choice where parents want their wards to study.
Gender equality is the rule of the day. Women are no more confined to the home or care giving type of jobs only. Societies all over the world are trying to eradicate gender discrimination in every form and this begins with education. The most obvious advantages of co-education schools are:
- Develops the feeling of equality- When girls and boys study together, they study the same things, participate in the same activities and compete at an equal level for every competition, a feeling of equality develops among the children from an early age. Their is a feeling of comradeship, as philosopher Plato has described. They do not consider each other different, better or worse than the other. (My son finds it difficult to understand why girls were not allowed to go to school in earlier Indian society and I find it difficult to tell him that women were considered inferior!)
- The natural way of growing- This is the often cited advantage of a co education. We all live in a community together, as men and women performing our roles. Society cannot function without man or without woman. When we have to grow up and amalgamate with the larger community, then why separate boys and girls during their education years. Co-education is considered a natural form of a society where men and women work together.
- Develops understanding and respect for each other- As girls and boys grow up together they learn to understand each others natures, likings, abilities, weaknesses everything. Both observe the strong as well as the weak point in each other’s temperament and learn to work together accordingly. For example when there is a group project they decide their roles according to each other’s best abilities and work in tandom to be better than other group. They realize and utilize each other’s strong points. They understand that all are important and capable in their own natural ways.This understanding creates respect for each other. Both understand that boys and girls are different in some ways. If one is good at one thing, the other is good at another.
- Prepares for the future by removing shyness and hesitation- Boys and girls get used to each other’s presence. Because they have been together from the early innocent childhood days, their is no hesitation or shyness while communicating with the opposite sex. This helps when both have to work equally with the other gender in their respective professions. Because of their understanding of each other’s nature and perspectives they know how to deal with each other.
- Learn from each other- Boys learn to be more civilized, patient and co-operating from the girls. Girls learn to take more risks and try to adopt a more relaxed approach from the boys.
- High confidence level because of constant healthy competition.
- Helps in strong, deep and healthy personal relations in the future.
Among the disadvantages of co education are the facts that in many cases studying together becomes a distraction during adolescence. Children are more worried about their attractiveness to the other gender, which takes away their focus from studies. Sexual harassment is also a danger. Sometimes co-education leads to more stereotyping of genders because both are conscious of each other’s behavior and try to be a certain way. Diligence and intelligence are in a costant tussle. It has also been found that as the girls grow they give in more easily, letting the boys dominate in the classroom. A study has also found that because boys are mostly more dominating teachers too seem to favour them most of the time.
Single sex schools
Boys and girls, men and women are born different. Our brains work differently and therefore our way of learning too is different from each other. It helps to be in single sex schools to grow at ones own pace of learning. Single sex schools allow children to be themselves and gives them the space to develop all round potential at their own pace. The advantages of single sex schools are-
- Social pressures are gentler- The competitive pressure is their because the boys or girls compete among themselves and try to be better than others. But this pressure becomes gentler when the competion is among the same gender. They do not have to prove their worth to the other gender all the time.
- Less stereotypes or stereotypes fade in single sex schools- Stereotype roles of genders (like behaving in a certain way, girlie or boyish sports or subjects etc.) are embedded in our minds by the larger society. This fades when the child is in a single sex school. Here children are free to test everything because they are free from the fears of comments or judgements of the opposite sex. For example, boys do not hesitate to engage in music, painting or arts subjects in an all boys school, because they grow up knowing them to be subjects of equal importance, as part of their cirriculum for all round development. But in a co-ed school, boys would hesitate to take up these subjects for fear of being among girls or get subjected to sneers from classmates for opting less manly subjects. The poor boy who is naturally good in languages may struggle with science and face disappointments in life. Same is true with the girls. They can take up any subject and sports without the fear of being considered tomboyish. Single sex schools thus develop individuality and not stereotypes.
- Confidence of knowing that one can perform various roles- Girls are encouraged and freely taught to fight and boys are encouraged and freely taught to cook, thus removing their prejudices and helping them develop multiple skills. They explore all fields and take up leadership positions in all areas of learning. This gives them the confidence to handle any situation in life with poise and confidence.
- Better learning- There are two obvious reasons for better quality of learning at single sex schools. First, the method of teaching adopted is gender specific. One that caters to the pace and ways of the respective genders. Secondly, students focus more on their school activities and achievements and not on their looks and appeal to the other gender.
- Co-operation and competition- Boys learn to co-operate more with each other as they participate in group activities. Girls learn to be more competitive when they are not dominated by the boys. This learning helps in better and more successful relations and careers in future.
- Boys and girls remain boys and girls for a longer period. They focus better on their education during the student life. They can do so because they are not pushed into the distractions of adulthood at an early, immature age.
Free atmosphere of single sex schools encourages enthusiasm, curiosity and fearlessness. The observation of Robin Robertson is worth noting. She observed- “I could identify students from girls only schools on the very first day of class. They were the young women whose hands shot up in the air most, who were not afraid to defend their positions, and who assumed I would be interested in their perspectives.” That is the confidence that single sex schools instill in students.
The disadvantage of single sex school is the hesitation that remains in communicating with the opposite sex. But this can be taken care of by after school activities, more socializing as a family and community, mutual respect for genders in the family. When the children have completed school, crossed the teenage, they are mature enough to weigh the rights and wrongs and thus can be trusted to go to co-ed higher education institutions and out in the world with confidence.
Whatever the education system a lot depends on family values, family education, the school’s education system and general atmosphere and the attitude of the boys and girls.