The purpose of school is to prepare our young people for their involvement in society and the wider world, so why would anyone not let them learn to work with the opposite sex? The topic of single-sex schools is a perennial debate that I am often asked to comment upon.
I believe single-sex schools can potentially limit young people and their ability to navigate the complexities of life.
In our increasingly diverse societies, it is vital for young people to listen and learn from each other. They must learn to co-operate, understand and respect differences so they can relate, interact and ultimately, organise society. How do we achieve such a vital level of human understanding if we are segregated from the opposite sex in our formative school years?
There’s another aspect of single-sex schooling that is problematic and it centres on the reinforcement of traditional stereotypes. It’s very difficult to inject new thinking and challenge perspectives when you are limited to one gender throughout your schooling.
A common myth is that single-sex schools improve academic achievement. This is based on two simple arguments: single-sex schooling removes the distraction of the opposite sex and provides gender specific learning. In reality, being hidden from the opposite sex means students miss out on the development of vital emotional intelligence. Both sexes in the classroom have a moderating effect on each other, keeping in check certain behaviours that groups of boys and girls are in danger of developing when they don’t have the benefit of each other. The argument that there are significant differences in the ways boys and girls learn is a dangerous oversimplification. Good teaching responds to a wide variety of learning needs in a classroom, regardless of gender or ethnicity. Great teachers are, and always will be, the key to success. Professor John Hattie, a renowned educational researcher, has proven that the game-changer for learning is the relationship between teacher and student. The ultimate claim of improved academic achievement in single-sex schooling is a classic example of ‘The Kardashian Effect’, making things look better than they really are.
Co-ed schools reflect 21st century realities. Like it or not, your child will be entering the world of mixed-gender tertiary institutions and workplaces. They will be required to work alongside different genders and have the skills to navigate those relationships without hesitation. These skills take time and practice and co-ed school-leavers have a distinct advantage here. Learning how to co-exist and work with the opposite gender after you have left school is a hindrance. Therefore, it makes no sense to restrict collaborative opportunities for our young people to model the real world of study and employment.
Life is co-ed; it makes sense for students to spend their formative years in a highly engaged co-educational learning environment. Even the ancient Greek philosopher Plato advocated teaching boys and girls together!
Words ― Mark Wilson, Executive Principal, Kristin School