The issue of single-sex education vs. co-education has many different aspects involved and followers of either one or the second choice. Personally I am for single-sex education, as I had an opportunity to study is school for girls, and I have to say that I still feel the positive effect it had for me. In particular, I am sure that it maximized my learning experience and helped to form strong self-confidence. To support my viewpoint, I researched the background of the problem, its history and recent studies that compared the two kinds of education, showing the advantages and disadvantages of each form.
Single-sex education is the practice of teaching, in which students of both sexes are studying not in mixed, but in separate training units, or even in different schools. In the countries of Western Europe for a long period of time training in school establishments was mostly single-sex. Boys were prepared mainly to public duty, to engage in commerce, science, as it were men who played a key role in all spheres of public life. The woman was to devote herself mainly to family.
The historical data is very instructive for analyzing the issues of single-sex education. Absolutely in all societies there were two children's cultures: boys’ and girls’. Children from 2.5 years are separated (Booth & Nolen, 2012). Girls initiate this segregation by starting to play separately from the boys. At the age of 4 the initiative is intercepted by boys. This segregation continues until about the age of puberty. This is a natural process. Adult society does not impose it to children. This is done by the children themselves. Society simply adjusts to it and either reinforces or weakens it.
If we take education and training, it is never produced by children; it is created by a society. And the ways of socialization of boys and girls adjust to the social division of labor. In all ancient societies, there was a rigid division of labor between men and women. Socio-work activity was mostly male, and females were completely devoted to the family. It is reproduced in socialization. Boys were taught what they will be: warriors, hunters, fishermen, etc. And the girls, as their main functions are in the family, all learn within the family, in the women's half of the house. And, therefore, they needed no special education. When the first schools opened, they first were opened for boys, and then - for girls. And it is always segregated. In this case, boys are prepared to public employment. And the girls, even when there appeared special schools, still were prepared for those functions that they performed at home.
For the question about changing the nature of education to appear, there had to change the gender order, social division of labor and power relations between men and women. And very gradually in the new time this process took place. As long as a woman was being involved in production and work, it became clear that they need to be taught. Then boys' and girls' schools appear. Next it is accompanied by the women's liberation movement, feminism, which is also a natural phenomenon (Bracey, 2007). First there comes the idea of universal education. Then there was the idea of equal education, fundamentally the same. After all, different curricula deny women’s opportunities for an equal footing with men in the labor force. Finally, in the 20th century, there came the idea of co-education. It existed back in the Middle Ages in popular rural schools. But then there was no choice: either the girls did not learn or were taught in the same school with boys. Thus, only in the 20th century, and radically - in the last third of the 20th century, education was not only universal, equal, but also co-operative. The principle of equality was the main at that time. The school teaches future joint activities, not just to look at each other as future sexual partners.
This sociological logic here is paramount. All psychological considerations are additional (Hughes, 2006). It is clear that the psychological characteristics and abilities are transformed under the influence of a change of activity. From the start it was obvious that the common school was associated with great difficulties. First of all, for teachers. School class as the construction was formed in the 17th century, and was lined by age only in the late 18th. Still, at the same age there are quite different levels of development. It is hard enough. When boys and girls are together the task of the teacher is extremely complicated.
This creates difficulties for the children themselves. When they are together, the question is who will win "scores" (Spielgahen, 2011). Boys are more active, as it is broadly shown in studies, while girls are more diligent. There is competition both at the individual and group levels. In each class there are top boys and top girls. There appear a lot of very complex problems. When these things were analyzed, people tried to base them on the different abilities. Still, although boys and girls definitely have many differences at all levels from the molecular to the structure of the brain, the differences are subtle. They do not show what a boy and a girl should do, what they should or should be taught. There are a lot of individual differences not only between boys and girls, but also within these groups. In fact, there are significantly more individual differences than group ones.
In the 2000-ies there was new research conducted that showed that there was no real disaster in the mixed schools. Girls often outperformed boys. The boys' performance at the same time improved over the past decade (Goldin & Katz, 2011). Just girls’ same figures are growing faster. This is not a social catastrophe, but the question is how to reduce the gender gap. Society got used to the fact that men are the main ones. Boys’ lagging threatened their dropping out of school, followed by the completion of criminal gangs. And then there was a question whether there was a mistake in the transition to co-education.
It is necessary to understand how to reduce the gender difference. There are after all, relatively speaking, gender-sensitive subjects, where the advantage clearly goes in the direction of the boys or girls. The weak subjects of the boys are foreign languages and literature. The weak subjects of girls are technical, mathematical sciences. And the advantage of boys in the labor market was due to the fact that wages are greater in the spheres, which require mathematics, physics, and engineering. There was a question of how to reduce this stress.
First in the United States there was analyzed the experience of existent single-sex and mixed schools. In the U.S., there are not a lot of single-sex schools left. Predominantly, they are religious and private schools (Eliot, 2011). Analysis of performance proved to be inconclusive. After all, private schools are for the wealthier people. There are fewer children in the classroom, better equipment, etc. It is clear that performing is generally better there. How can you compare a privileged private school and general education? In 2005, the U.S. government held a huge study, but it turned out that the data are not comparable. When people say that it is necessary to return to separate schools, primarily it refers to things such as sex, unwanted pregnancies, etc. But these things had to be excluded from the analysis so as to get quality data.
Then experiments were conducted. The best studies were carried out in Europe, as they were less politicized. Not just single-sex schools, but also same-sex classes were analyzed. The most solid research was conducted by scientists from the University of Cambridge in 2000 and 2004 (Smith, 2012). The results were more in favor of single-sex schools. It was found that a significant positive point was not differentiation of boys and girls in general, but rather differentiation of the lessons on gender-sensitive subjects. In the West, classes are formed by subjects. So, a boy can sit in different classes with different people. Advantage here is a variety, while the downside is increased loneliness of teenagers.
On the whole, the high level of intensity, the fast pace of material studying is better for boys. The boy is ready to act at once, and when repeating starts, boys drop out of the educational process. For teachers it is easier to adapt to work exactly in single-sex classes. It is easier to express their individuality in there. Quality of education in separated classes is 30% higher than in the mixed. In single-sex classes it is easier to maintain discipline, to focus on the subject, not get distracted. Children do not hesitate to ask the teacher if something is not understood, do not hesitate to make a mistake. When a husband and wife are living together for many years with each other, they begin to resemble each other. Similarly, in school, learning together makes boys like girls and vice versa. The girls are not ready for the role of housewife, mother, and boys - to the role of defender of the family, breadwinner.
So, it turns out that gender-sensitive subject grades in single-sex classes increases. The boys are not shy because of girls and vice versa. The issue here is not that inherently innate abilities are different, but that boys and girls hamper each other. However, it is not a panacea. In one school the boys would read books, poems, etc. And in the other, where there is pronounced hegemony of macho-boys, there will be denial of "girly" things. There are no standard solutions here.
Booth, A.L., & Nolen, P. (2012). Gender differences in risk behaviour: does nurture matter? The Economic Journal, 122(558), F56–F78.
Bracey, G.W. (2007). The Success of Single-Sex Education is Still Unproven. The Education Digest, 72(6), 22-26.
Eliot, L. (2011). The Trouble with Sex Differences. Neuron, 72(6), 895-898.
Goldin, C. & Katz, L.F. (2011). Putting the "co" in education: timing, reasons, and consequences of college coeduction from 1835 to the Present. Journal of Human Capital, 5(4), 377-417.
Hughes, T.A. (2006). The Advantages of Single-Sex Education. National Forum of Educational Administration and Supervision Journal, 23(2), 5-14.
Smith, D.V. (2012). Gender, Science and Essentialism: the use of science to support single-sex schooling. Gender, Science and Technology, 4(3), 330-340.
Spielgahen, F.R. (2011). “It all depends”: Middle School Teachers Evaluate Single-Sex Classes. Research in Middle Level Education, 34(7), 1-12.