Comparing Single-Sex and Co-ed School Systems

The importance of education in the society cannot be overestimated. Accordingly, it can be seen that constant improvement and developments in the field of education aim at making learning more efficient. Such developments might include changing teaching styles, developing curriculum materials, improving delivery methods, and others. For most of those developments a corresponding area of research literature exists and constantly adds up supporting or refuting educational hypotheses. One of the interesting areas to explore is the influence of mixed or separate education on learning outcomes. The interest might be caused by apparently opposing directions in such issue, where gender equality leads to a decrease in the number of single-sex schools. On the other hand, the results of research show that “[t]he researchers found that at age 16, girls in girls’ schools were more likely to gain maths and science A-levels, and boys in boys’ schools more liable to gain A-levels in English and modern languages than their peers in co-educational schools” (Centre for Longitudinal Studies).

The foundation for the proposed research is the article “Between The Sexes, A Great Divide” by Anna Quindlen (2008). In the article, Quindlen makes the point that despite being a long time feminist who defended the fact that men and women are fundamentally alike, she came to the conclusion that they are “different species” (Quindlen). Accordingly, a thesis can be developed on the basis of such article which is that being different might imply that each gender can learn better separately, as opposed to co-educational school system. Thus, intend to analyze such issue, its origin as well as benefits, and compare it to the traditional co-ed system to find out which is more advantageous for our youth. The purpose of the study is mainly associated with investigating individual socialization practices, sex equality, and the urge to attain higher academic achievement for both sexes. The investigation of both systems of education is conducted in view of grades and test scores as the major point of interest. The paper aim is in emphasizing that despite of the different benefits for each educational system, single-sex education system has more advantages.

During the early years, the access to higher education was provided through the single sex education system. Single sex education, as the title implies, is a school system in which each gender is educated separately, whether in different classes or different buildings. In the United States, such practice was in effect there for many years. The colleges and universities of the time would only educate men, including such educational institutions such as Harvard University (1636), Yale College (1716), and the college of New Jersey in Princeton (1716) (Rosenberg). Formal education was not an option for women at the time because women were widely seen as inferior beings compared to men, and thus, education was not a priority for them.

During the colonial period, the people who were to receive higher education were simply to later become clergy men or leaders, which was not the case for women. Accordingly, for the same reason education for women was not viewed as important. Girls were offered basic education which would be almost the same as in high school education. The education provided focused mainly on manners and morals, rather than literacy after which they would be prepared to become good mothers and wives and role models to their daughters. Afterwards, several other colleges that provided education to women were established.

After the American Revolution, a number of feminist expressed interest in education and people begun to notice the important role played by a woman who was educated, especially for children (Rosenberg). The agrarian revolution is said to have helped in the realization and acceptance of coeducation, becoming a wide practice over the nineteenth century. From a research conducted by NASSPE in 2002, about dozen of public schools were offering single sex education, but by 2010, about 520 of the public schools in United States were offering the single sex education system, marking a tremendous increment (NASSPE; Sax).

Compared to coeducation, single sex education was widely practiced in the past. This trend began to shift more toward coeducation. In the United States, the majority of school children were enrolled in coeducation schools, where by 1900 about 70% of higher education institutions had adopted the coeducational system, after which it became the clear standard practice in America (RURY). Such practice was distinguishing the schools in North America to other educational institutions elsewhere in the world. Coeducation was becoming mandatory in western countries in the 1960s, with a popular argument that coeducation was not as expensive as single-sex education, along with the argument of gender equality. Other arguments that seemed to support the system of coeducation was the fact that many educational authorities begun to realize that women and men were equals and could therefore be educated together. This would then cut back the economic wastefulness perceived to be experienced in the education sector due to separation. There were also those who campaigned vigorously for its adoption, providing reasons as to why its adoption would be beneficial. One of the reasons is the argument that there would be a reflection of a natural kind of mingling between both sexes. The latter was campaigned for, especially by several women’s movements, as a way through which women could acquire parity with men, and also a way of opening doors for greater opportunities to them (RURY)

There were also those who opposed to such schooling system. One example can be seen through the view of religion, namely Catholics, who stated that good morals and religious beliefs would be compromised once both male and female were placed together closely for a long period of time (RURY). They argued that the acts of promiscuity and unhealthy competition would commence to exist. Other critics who echoed the Catholics based their reasoning to the fact that male and female had different purposes to fulfill in their lives. Most of these people were curriculum experts who strongly believed that men and women were obliged to take different or separate courses. Because of such belief, most Catholic secondary schools continued to offer single-sex education. There were also several other private schools which did not support coeducation and kept single-sex education system. Such argument was countered by success stories from the American system of education. The coeducation system was also supported by experiments, such as those at Antioch and Oberlin colleges, the results of which turned out to be positive and led to wide acceptance of coeducation (RURY). Additionally, some educators realized that girls in coeducational systems represented calming influence on boys, while boys’ presence was pushing them to attain greater success in school (RURY).

Given the two systems of education, a comparison of its outcomes might be required. In terms of single sex education, those who advocate such system base their arguments on several factors. One factor is related to stereotypes, where it is argued that a child in a single-sex system of education would be able to break from the stereo typical belief regarding choice of subjects to study. In James and Richards (2003), it was found that single-sex education of males led to that they had the opportunity to explore subjects that were usually ascribed to females, e.g. humanities. The main finding of the authors revolves around the statement that that single-sex schools break down gender stereotypes. For example, a girl who attends a single-sex school will most likely feel comfortable taking subjects such as sciences, computers and mathematics, all of which are subjects mostly associated with males, and vice versa (James and Richards).

Replying to such argument, those who advocate for coeducation stress out such factor as healthy competition, where having both sexes learn in the same educational environment might create a healthy competitive interest. The latter in turn is argued to lead both to study harder. Another argument of support for coeducation is based such factor as socialization (RURY). Such arguments are not empirically proven, with many counter arguments on such aspect. In terms of socialization, for example, it is argued that coeducation might put social pressures on both genders, largely caused by different rates of cognitive development. Such pressure lead to that both genders have to conform to their stereotypes (James and Richards). When referring to the equality argument for females, it was found that the environment in single-sex education is believed to provide “greater interest in and support for the women’s movement at their schools than do female students in the coeducational schools” (Trickett et al. 380).

The advantages of single-sex education can be expanded further to include avoiding caution in interaction. Children attending single-sex schools get to enjoy being themselves without worrying about any embarrassing that might occur between genders. In Buie (2000), cited in “Single-Sex Vs. Coed: The Evidence”, coeducation intuitions are described as instilling caution to students about the choices they make and which subjects or activities they participate in; “Mr. Hunter observes there is a subtle and invidious pressure towards gender stereotyping in mixed schools” (NASSPE). More importantly, not all boys are rough or enjoy participating in hardcore games like football, where there are those who just find it fun to participate in activities that are considered to be of feminine interests like music or cooking, while there are girls who enjoy participating in activities that are male dominated like football, hockey, and soccer.

Another argument can be seen in that students attending single-sex schools are stated to be less distracted. There are concerns that the boys attending coeducation schools might be distracted by girls. Girls, on the other hand, are said to be more concerned about how they look as compared to their class work. As for the focus on study, it is stated in Trickett, et al. (1982) that “single-sex students report spending more time each day doing homework, being more likely to spend weekend time on homework, spending less time on extracurricular activities, and having less free time in general” (380). The same study found out that “those at single sex schools had more positive attitude and are serious about academics than those at coed school (NASSPE). It is noted that while going to school most junior and high school students wear clothes that tend to make them look more appealing and attractive to the opposite sex. This observation is hardly noted in single-sex schools because there are no people to impress, and hence there were “because there were fewer inhibitions, less concern with image, more willingness to offer an answer, to dare and be mistaken, than if the other sex were present” (Warrington and Younger 350).

Studies involving comparison of academic performance between single-sex and coed schools found out that students studying in single-sex schools always performed better than those in coed schools. A government-backed review in 2007, which studied Key Stage 2 and GCSE scores of more than 700,000 girls, found out that girls were performing better while in single-sex classrooms as compared to coed ones (Paton and Moore). A review of literature on single-sex education in England revealed that such education positively influence achievements levels, providing conductive and supportive environment for students’ learning” (Warrington and Younger 339). The results show about 70% improvement in GCSE exam tests over a period of 12 years, although those results contribute to girls’ achievements more than the boys’ (Warrington and Younger 353).

Additionally, the results of a research by the Institute of Education’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies, which study followed almost 13,000 individuals, revealed many beneficial outcomes for those individuals who attended single-sex schools. Such outcomes can be linked to career, including such outcomes as wages and position held, where it was stated that “girls from single-sex schools do get higher wages in later life” (Centre for Longitudinal Studies).

For the government, coed education can considered to be economically feasible considering that there is no need to create separate classes or schools. Such factor also contributes to lowering the cost of hiring new staff, i.e. teachers and subordinate staff, as they would provide their services to both boys and girls. The aforementioned can be used to explain the difference in scores, where it is argued that the differences in academic achievements between single-sex and coeducational schools, can be seen in that single sex schools are more researched from the perspective of private schools, which provide better education in general, compared to those in public schools (Sax). It should be added that in addition to success stories, there are also stories in which single-sex education did not achieve any improvements. The latter might be linked to the lack of training in gender-specific teaching, implementing which might also incur additional costs, which the government might prefer to avoid (Sax).

In conclusion, the debate between single-sex and coeducation is an old one, constantly shifting between the emphasis on providing equal opportunities and researches on performance and academic achievements. Parents choosing schools for their children should consider several factors, such as the environment where the child is going to be more comfortable and be able to participate in what interest them willingly without fear. Some children can do very well in single-sex schools while other will do best in coeducation schools. Nevertheless, the findings of the present paper almost unanimously point out to that single-sex schools have more advantages and benefits. Single-sex schools provide more comfortable environment for students to exercise their academic and extracurricular activities. The methods used to teach children are quickly changing as time passes by, and it can be assumed that the discussion as to which schooling system is better are not going to stop anytime soon in the future. Thus, the role of research is indicating which methods are better than others.

Works Cited

Centre for Longitudinal Studies. “New Research Dispels Myths Surrounding Single-Sex Schooling”. 2006. Centre for Longitudinal Studies. Web.

James, Abigail Norfleet, and Herbert C. Richards. “Escaping Stereotypes: Educational Attitudes of Male Alumni of Single-Sex and Coed Schools.” Psychology of Men and Masculinity 4.2 (2003): 136-48. Print.

NASSPE. “Single-Sex Vs. Coed: The Evidence”. 2010. National Association for Single Sex Public Education. Web.

Paton, Graeme, and Matthew Moore. . 2009. The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group Limited. Web.

Quindlen, Anna. “Between the Sexes, a Great Divide”. 2008. Women and Higher Education. The State University of New York. Web.

Rosenberg, Rosalind. “The Limits of Access: The History of Coeducation in America”. n.d. Women and Higher Education. Eds. Faragher, John Mack and Florence Howe. Barnard College Library. Web.

RURY, JOHN L.. 2004. Encyclopedia of Children and Childhood in History and Society. Web.

Sax, Leonard. “The Promise and Peril of Single-Sex Public Education.” Education Week 24.25 (2005): 48 pp. Web.

Trickett, Edison J., et al. “The Independent School Experience: Aspects of the Normative Environments of Single-Sex and Coed Secondary Schools.” Journal of Educational Psychology 74.3 (1982): 374-81. Print.

Warrington, Molly, and Mike Younger. “Single-Sex Classes and Equal Opportunities for Girls and Boys: Perspectives through Time from a Mixed Comprehensive School in England.” Oxford Review of Education 27.3 (2001): 339-56. Print.

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