By Adam Rogers, Executive Head, Reddam House uMhlanga
A lot has been – and will be – said on either side of the ‘co-ed or single-sex schooling’ discussion, but at the heart of it must lie the reality that life is co-ed. From that we can develop the idea that a healthy, creative, and respect-centred education environment will better equip and prepare young people for life beyond school – at university, at home, and in the working world.
For decades, research, theory and anecdotal narratives have claimed that single sex schools and society are failing either girls or boys, and it appears that opinion has swung on the merits of co-education. Single sex schooling has enjoyed a long and honourable tradition, but it is a legacy of a time when men and women enjoyed vastly different rights and expectations. The trend now is for equal opportunities for both sexes, which suggests that schools, parents and students would benefit from the co-ed schooling choice.
Co-education better reflects society and contemporary trends, and a distinct advantage of it is that both boys and girls become more comfortable interacting and working alongside students of the opposite gender. They all learn to accept each other as equal partners in school and in life.
In a school where an atmosphere of mutual respect for the opposite gender is actively encouraged, and students are given the opportunity to learn to work together, the outcome is likely to be that all boys and all girls feel validated, rather than only the hegemonic version of the ‘perfect boy’ or ‘perfect girl’ that can sometimes arise in single-sex schools.
Co-ed schools are essentially mindful of both the collective needs of all the high school students, as well as the specific needs of boys and girls. Naturally, in teaching both genders, the reality of different learning styles must be accommodated.
In acknowledging the danger of generalisations, Dr Gail Gross, a human behaviour, parenting and education expert, notes, “It is true that many boys pick up fewer social cues than their female counterparts. That girls make more serotonin and oxytocin, so they are calmer and more interested in emotional connection. Boys mature more slowly than girls and girls have more of their cerebral cortex defined for verbal function. The hippocampus, where memory and language live, does develop more rapidly and is larger in girls than in boys. This impacts vocabulary, reading and writing skills. Boys, on the other hand, have more of their cerebral cortex defined for spatial relationships. As a result, they learn easily through movement and visual experience…”
Schools where students’ differences and individuality is taken into account across the board of lessons, sport and self-expression, are likely to deliver good results and well-rounded graduates who are equipped for life and all its challenges.
Co-ed schools can offer students an environment:
· That is pleasant and socially relaxed
· With less tension than is potentially found in a single-sex school
· Where it is easier to find a group to fit in with and develop confidence
· Where it is easier to overcome fear of the opposite sex
· With little hurtful behaviour, criticism and judgement
· Where stereotyping of boys and girls is broken down
· Where boys and girls are not limited to what they can achieve
· Where a balanced perspective in all aspects of school life is maintained
The cross-pollination that takes place in a co-ed school, between the boys and girls, is essentially healthy. Generally speaking, the girls’ attentiveness and diligence positively impacts boys, while their liveliness of the boys often inspires the girls. They learn from each other.
WHAT DOES RESEARCH SAY?
The Strategic Counsel, a Canadian market research firm, surveyed 17,798 students and recent graduates from Canadian high schools. Those surveyed were primarily university- or college-bound and came from all types of schools, whether independent or public, co-ed or single-sex. Their findings included the following:
Boys and girls reported nearly the same level of academic confidence regardless of the school environment (co-ed vs. single sex)
84% of students attending independent co-ed schools felt confident expressing their views in the presence of the opposite sex (that number dropped significantly for students in single-sex schools)
Students at co-ed schools make friends easily with members of the same sex (80%) and members of the opposite sex (72%) (that latter number drops to 58% for students in single-sex independent schools)
Girls at co-ed schools were just as likely as those at single-sex schools to participate in class discussions
Girls’ perceptions of their abilities in math and science are not affected by the gender composition of their schools
Boys in a co-ed environment are as likely to be engaged in learning as boys in a single-sex environment
Students at independent co-ed schools agree (88%) that their school is a safe environment for all students