Single-gender school v/s co-ed –the debate has been going on for a long time now. We help you decide which is the better choice for your child.
By Shaswathi Bhanukumar
The scenes that you see in a single-gender school are different from those in co-ed schools, but the amount of fun children have remains the same. Of course, there are pros and cons to every decision we make in life and that is why, as parents, we need to know the merits and drawbacks of the school we choose for our kids.
So, what exactly is a single-gender classroom? Imagine walking into a school and finding only girls or boys there. This is what a single-gender school looks like.
But, what was the reason behind setting up single gender schools? Well, in the 19th century, in Western Europe, only boys were sent to school and girls were educated at home. However, in the USA, at the same time, the idea of sending girls to school was gaining ground. This resulted in the establishment of women's educational institutions. It took a few years longer for the first co-ed school to be inaugurated in Oberlin, Ohio. By late 20th century, however, many schools that previously catered to a single gender, became co-educational.
Surprisingly, in contrast, women in ancient India enjoyed a high status and there were many women scholars of note. While the Rig Veda mentions the name of female poets, by 800 BCE there were a few women scholars mentioned in the Upanishads as well.
However, the education system in India, and elsewhere, went through several changes over the years and was witness to the popularity of co-ed schools, which mushroomed all over the country. Here, we give you a low-down on the advantages and disadvantages of single-gender schools.
With both genders under one roof, there are going to be distractions. Children either end up fighting with the opposite sex or getting involved with them. When there are no distractions in the classroom, children focus more on studies.
While girls are good in some subjects, boys excel in others. When children study in a single-gender classroom, they interact much more confidently and freely, and can discuss topics, which they would be otherwise hesitant about. Since, all leadership positions are also held by peers of the same gender, children feel empowered and confident about tackling any job.
The reason behind single-gender classroom is the belief that girls and boys are different neurologically and learn very differently. According to a study ‘How The Brain Learns: New And Exciting Findings’ presented by Dr Sousa in 2014 ASAIHL Conference in Singapore, boys develop visual, spatial and temporal skills faster than girls and girls acquire spoken language skills faster than boys. In a single-gender school, girls get to explore their skills at their own pace without having to compete with boys and vice versa.
While in a co-ed school, it is difficult to cater for everyone’s needs, in single-gender classrooms, it is easier for teachers to prepare lessons suited to the student’s learning styles. Usually, boys understand more through physical activities while girls prefer interactions and discussions. According to a study ‘With Boys And Girls In Mind’ by Michael Gurian and Kathy Stevens published in Educational Leadership in 2004, classrooms based on gender promote different skills and make learning more relatable. The study states ‘New PET scan and MRI technologies reveal structural and functional differences in the brains of boys and girls. With more cortical areas devoted to verbal functioning, sensual memory, sitting still, listening, tonality, and mental cross talk, the complexities of reading and writing come easier to the female brain. Boys lateralize their thinking, need rest states to recharge, and use more cortical areas of their brains for spatial-mechanical functioning. Classrooms that help girls learn will promote gross motor skills, encourage perceptual learning, and use manipulatives to teach math. Boy-friendly classrooms will promote fine motor skills, provide ample space to move around, and make lessons experiential and kinesthetic’.
While single-gender classrooms provide a relaxed ambience for children’s interaction with their own gender, it is different in the real world, where they must interact with the opposite gender and work with them. When they are used to interacting only with one gender in school, it becomes difficult for them to have a conversation with the opposite gender as they are not used to it and are not confident.
Studies have shown that single-gender classrooms foster gender stereotypes. Both genders start thinking they are better than the other. "There is strong evidence for negative consequences of segregating by sex -- the collateral damage of segregating by sex,” said Lynn S Liben, Professor of Psychology, Human Development and Family Studies, and Education, Penn State in a report ‘Sex segregation in schools detrimental to equality’, published in Science Daily in 2011.
Single-gender classrooms or schools promote only one gender and that is why they lack diversity. In a mixed school, the competition is much healthier as the opinions of the other gender too are taken into consideration and this leads to healthy and more balanced discussions.
Since single-gender classrooms or schools involve a particular gender, it makes children feel they are superior to the other sex and that causes gender disparity. This attitude, in the long run, causes problems when they are working side by side.
“Children usually tend to be shy around each other or are just too curious about each other. In a co-ed, they might fight with each other, but they grow up knowing each other well. This is a healthy way of growing up,” says Seetha Kiran, Regional Director, DAV Public School, Safilguda.
"When you are in an all-boys school, and especially for a long time like I have been, you tend to get shy around girls. It even gets awkward when you get into college, which is mostly co-ed. You don’t know what to say or how to behave around the opposite gender. But yes, single-gender schools have their benefits too. There are no distractions and we don’t get embarrassed when we are pulled up in class, because we don’t feel so conscious."
Aditya Himatsingka, studies in an all-boys boarding school in Bangalore
"Both my boys go to an all-boys school. And I feel there are less distractions there. But, I have noticed they are shy around girls. They have certain notions about how girls behave, even though I have explained that that’s not necessarily true."
"My daughter studies in an all-girls school and my son goes to a co-ed school. The advantage of a single-gender classroom as far as my daughter is concerned is that she does not need to mind herself all the time or be conscious about her actions as she is in an all-girls school."
Ultimately though, as parents, you would know what is best for your children. So, it is up to you to decide whether you want your child to study in a co-ed or a single-gender school. Whatever you decide is going to shape their future, not just academically but also personally. So, choose wisely and keep an open mind.
Validated by Dr Marianne De Nazareth, Adjunct Faculty, St Joseph’s College Bengaluru and Professor Radha Nair, Retd HOD (English), Providence Women's College, Kerala
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