Single-sex education is the practice of conducting education where male and female students attend separate classes or in separate buildings or schools. The practice was predominant before the mid-twentieth century, particularly in secondary education and higher education. Single-sex education is often advocated on the basis of tradition, as well as religious or cultural values. It is practiced in many parts of the world. A number of studies starting in the 1990s are showing statistical data that children from single-sex schools are outperforming students from coeducational schools, however, other studies suggest that these are non-conclusive. In 2002, because of these studies and bipartisan support, the US law of 1972 that made coeducation in public schools mandatory was revoked and funding was given in support of the single-sex option. There are now associations of parents who are advocating for single-sex education.
Many support single-sex education and hold that it can help student's learning.
According to supporters, gender roles can be subverted in a single-sex environment; girls will be more likely to pursue the arts, and boys more likely to pursue mathematics and science. Margrét Pála Ólafsdóttir, an Icelandic educator who introduced single-sex kindergarten to Iceland in 1989, stated: "Both sexes seek tasks they know. They select behavior they know and consider appropriate for their sex. In mixed schools, each sex monopolises its stereotyped tasks and behavior so the sex that really needs to practice new things never gets the opportunity. Thus, mixed-sex schools support and increase the old traditional roles."
There are some neurological and chemical differences that can be observed in adults. The average woman is believed to use the left hemisphere of the brain more often; this area of the brain is associated with speaking, reading and writing. Likewise their frontal lobe (facilitates speech, thought and emotion) is more active. Some argue that this must thus hold true for girls of all ages as well. Thus, girls retain and process information better with open ended assignments that allow them to fully express themselves.
According to some studies (Kadidy & Ditty, 2001, Elliot, 1971, Cone-Wesson & Ramirez, 1998) females hear better than males which would call for males to sit closer to the front of the classroom to hear instruction better; as males usually are seated in the rear of the classroom, this would be a change from the traditional seating arrangement. Also females have higher levels of estrogen in the brain which reduce aggressive behavior and is thought to create a calmer classroom atmosphere. They are also more likely to assume a leadership role in a single-gendered classroom than a co-educational one.
Without the presence of the opposite sex, it is believed, students will be less distracted from their academics. As well, teachers will have the ability to devote more time to instruction and less to discipline.
In short, some argue that all males and females receive and process information differently, hear and see differently, and develop at different paces; therefore, they argue, different teaching styles and classroom structures should be adopted to accommodate both sexes. Further research involving classroom observation and gender specific instruction implementation should be monitored and considered, especially concerning the differences within a group of one sex as opposed to the rest of the class.
Supporters argue that socialization is not the same as putting together, but is a matter of educating in habits such as respect, generosity, fairness, loyalty, courtesy, etc. And this can be done with more success knowing the distinct tendencies of boys and girls.
Defenders also state that there are more teenage pregnancies and sexual harassment cases in coeducational schools. Catholics usually refer to teachings of Pope Pius XI in 1929. He wrote an encyclical entitled "Christian Education of Youth" where he addressed the topic of coeducation. He said: "False also and harmful to Christian education is the so-called method "co-education". This too, by many of its supporters is founded upon naturalism and the denial of original sin."
According to defenders of coeducation, segregated learning facilities are inherently unequal. System bias will reinforce gender stereotypes and perpetuate societal inequalities in opportunities afforded to males and females. Single-sex schools in fact accentuate gender-based educational limitations and discrimination. Boys' schools may not offer home economics classes, while girls' schools may not offer metalwork, woodwork or as wide a variety of sports.
Critics of the single sex education argue that without the presence of the opposite sex, students are denied a learning environment representative of real life. This deprives them of the opportunity to develop skills for interaction with peers of both genders in their work environment and fosters ignorance and prejudice toward the other gender.
- JOSSEY-BASS (Ed): Gender in Education. Jossey-Bass Publishers, 2002. - FIZE, Michel: Les pièges de la mixité scolaire. Presses de la Renaissance, 2003.
- SALOMONE, Rosemary C.: Same, different, equal : rethinking single-sex schooling. New Haven : Yale University Press, c 2003.
- CAMPS, Jaume & VIDAL, Enric (Ed): Familia, Educación y Género. Monografias IESF n. 1, Instituto de Estudios Superiores de la Familia, Universitat Internacional de Catalunya, Barcelona, abril 2007.
- RIORDAN, Cornelius: "The Effects of Single Sex Schools: What Do We Know?", Lectures and Papers, First World Congress of Single-Sex Education (EASSE), Barcelona, 2007.
- VIDAL, E. (Ed). Diferentes, iguales, ¿juntos? Educación diferenciada. Ariel, Barcelona, 2006.
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