The Debate Around Co-ed Versus Single Gender Schools


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This study focuses on an on-going debate regarding co-education and single education. The question asked is to know whether or not it is more advantageous for girls and boys to be separated at school or not. A co-education, a unisex education is known for its powers of improvement of children’s academic performance. Thus, on another hand, it fortifies stereotypes related to gender. The term co-education signifies the mixing of genders and their coexistence in school. As early as the 19th century, this term was put forward and meant ‘common education’. Nowadays, for society, gender diversity should bring about gender equality. However, this is not a guarantee of equality or equity. Indeed, according to the subjects taught, we observe an inequality of success between boys and girls.

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After having read an article from the New York Times, it was said that in the mid-90s, only two schools in the United States supported single education and therefore separated girls and boys. Today, there are more than 500 schools that follow up to this education method. The National Association for Single Sex Public Education, which promotes such education, believes that ‘if we teach the same subjects in the same way to both girls and boys, at the age of 12 or 14, we have girls who think that geometry is hard, and boys who find that art and poetry are for girls. Furthermore, they emphasize on the fact that “the lack of understanding of gender differences has the unintended consequence of reinforcing stereotypes, while conversely, if you understand these differences, you can avoid them.’ Thus, an article found in the Science magazine rejects the idea supporting single education for children: ‘There are no well-crafted studies showing that unisex education improves performance in academics, but there is evidence that gender separation increases stereotypes and legitimizes institutionalized sexism.”

This study is entitled ‘The pseudo-science of separate education of girls and boys’. Its authors and scientists are all group members of the American Council for Coeducational Schooling. A request was made to the president of the United States at the time, President Barack Obama, to reconsider the rule that prevents unequal education. The Department of Education has taken further measure into this study, stating that ‘when we talk about separating students, treating them differently, we have to do it in accordance with the constitution, and we want to make sure that it is justified. We want to make sure that there are safeguards against the fabric of stereotypes.’

In the list of said stereotypes, it is mentioned that girls aren’t made for maths same way as boys aren’t made for arts. A study has furthermore proven that during primary to high school timeline, the percentage of girls that have favoured science as a subject fall between 66 to 48%. On that same note, those who wish to stop mathematics as a subject fall between 9 to 50%. Therefore, it is the single fact of progressively coming to terms with the idea that girls ‘would not be made for that’. By incorporating these stereotypes, parents can pass them on to their children.

Another aspect of co-education is the idea that boys are known to be in need of more physical activity. An MSNBC report shows that boys are encouraged to move whiles girls sit quietly to read. A number of studies prove that there is no more than slight differences between the functioning of the female brain compared to the one of the male gender. One of these studies originates from Dr. Lise Eliot, a neurobiologist at the Chicago School of Medicine. She is the author of the book ‘Brain blue brain’: his book concludes with the notion that there is ‘surprisingly little solid evidence of sexual differences in the brains of children’. ‘Differences between people of the same sex are so important that they outweigh the differences that may be observed between the sexes,’ said Catherine Vidal, neurobiologist and laboratory head at the Institute Pastor.

Thus, a British psychologist, Simon Baron-Cohen, is based on a study of children aged of one day only. His study showed that male infants give more attention to moving objects while females looked longer at faces and physical appearances. The male brain, Mr. Baron-Cohen believes, is linked to power, hunting, and commerce, when the female brain is designed for friendship, motherhood, and gossip. For the authors of the study published by Science, there is no serious proof that it is better to separate girls from boys. They believe that ‘funds for teacher training on gender-related learning would be better used if they were taught to integrate girls and boys into the learning environment.’

Several advantages appear in an obvious way regarding co-education. First off, everyone learns from each other. Interacting with people of the opposite sex exposes us to different ways of thinking and acting. The more thoughtful behaviour of girls will lessen the more impulsive behaviour of boys.A mixed class mode corresponds to the society in which we live in. It is necessary to accustom from the youngest age the two sexes to live together since from the appearance of the sexual identity, boys and girls will seek to devalue the other sex and will thus be in perpetual confrontation. It is within this very confrontation that the identity construction is born.

There are some economic factors that orient the grouping of the classes towards the mixing of the two. There are also many disadvantages to mixed groups and co-education. First being that, there is the anxiety of the other’s eyes, this prevents some students from participating and therefore indirectly involved in learning. In second hand, we find that according to the subjects, the education provided favours one of the two sexes. For example, the skills required in language activities correspond more to the intellectual abilities of girls. There are thus gender gaps in achievement depending on the activities and didactic choices of teachers. These differences are also explained by the experience of students, girls read more than boys, so they have a greater literary culture.

The formation of non-mixed groups also has advantages and disadvantages. First of all, scientific studies show that girls and boys do not learn in the same way, so it is important to differentiate teaching to increase success. Single education will allow the shyest people, afraid of the opposite sex, to be able to express themselves more easily. Because of the experience of both sexes, the single education students will give the teacher the opportunity to focus the content according to the motivations and desires of each.

As we have seen above, social life is constructed in relation to the opposite sex. Single education does not permit this of happening. If boys and girls are separated, it will reinforce gender stereotypes and inequalities in the future. In addition, according to the study of J.C. Saint Amant, University of Laval 2003, single education would hurt boys. Indeed, it seems that there is no real improvement in the results in a class of boys because the teacher would reduce his requirements, compared to a class with girls. The organization in the non-mixed class would bring forward the problem of who teaches whom. We can thus note that each form of grouping presents advantages as disadvantages and will be at the origin of discriminations and inequality of success. Each of the two sexes will bring their own qualities. For example, in group sports, boys will bring their dynamics and will increase the level of games. Boys can serve as a catalyst in girls’ progress by being their coach and vice versa in artistic activities. However, the choice of mixed groups in sports can be questioned because of the many disadvantages it presents.

As we said above, the experience is a determining factor in the differences of success. Indeed, teachers are more likely to choose masculine activities in order to please boys. Most of the boys’ experiences are transferable to other activities offered at school, for example from football to handball. We find that in PE girls have a lower engagement time than boys. This is insufficient for there to be real learning. This can be explained by two different causes, on the one hand the monopolisation of the ball by the boys in the collective sports, and on the other hand, the lack of commitment because of the apprehension of the eyes of others. Catherine Moreno highlights the law of boys which corresponds to the fact that the teacher adapts his teaching to the desires of the boys, to keep the attention of these, by favouring for example the motivation of competition. The level of requirement is not the same according to the sex of the person, because of the physical capacities of each one, which results in an educational differentiation and a differentiated evaluation. Most of the disadvantages of mixed groups become advantages for non-mixed groups. They will make it possible to propose specific learning situations. Indeed, we have previously seen that boys and girls do not learn in the same way and that they do not have the same qualities and experience. This separation would then allow a better quality and quantity of work. Moreover, the teacher will be able to play on the representations and on his entry in the activity according to the gender. For example, a more competitive entry with boys. In a class of girls, one would think that there would be less disturbance, of ruckus. Does this mean that learning will be better?

In conclusion, we can say that co-education has a double face that explains the difficulty to absolutely solve the issues of this subject. It is first and foremost an emblem of our modern societies that reaffirms gender equality and therefore wants to treat girls and boys in the same way. We understand that a mixture of genders is needed with such perception of things. Moreover, gender diversity breaks the taboo and prejudices that it would be easy to have on the opposite gender when one is never confronted with it. This mixture of genders is therefore a factor of openness, discovery and acceptance of difference that harmonize the mixed relationship and, in this way, favours the social link. However, the other face of co-education seems in practice to be darker than what proposes the beautiful republican ideal. Without falling into the ancestral cliché, it seems that the mixed nature especially at school, and therefore at a certain age, disturbs the construction and progression of the person both in his schooling and in the development of his personality.

Moreover, it seems more than useless since girls and boys would tend to stay between them. Finally, the girl-boy friendship remains impossible considering the attraction that the two sexes have for each other. Therefore, between these two antinomian faces which one to choose? It would seem obvious that any Manichean vision lacks caution and that neither demonize the mix nor put it on a pedestal. It is to use with measure taking into account the age, the circumstances and to ensure that each sex can from time to time be left alone with the companions of its kind to better (re) discover.

Lastly, if mixed gender friendships is indeed a phenomenon of the most current it is true that the deep friendship between girl and boy seems to be delicate. However, its rarity does not exclude that there can be cordial links between girls and boys and that the liberation of their desire to mix with and interact with one another is a factor of social bonding.

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