Thursday, August 03, 2006

Single Sex Education

“By almost every benchmark and across every demographic group, boys are falling behind at school.”

This statement was made about the shape of education in America last year, but it’s equally valid in most parts of the globe. Whereas fifty years ago the education system advantaged boys, nowadays it measures academic success in a way that seems to benefit girls.

For some strange reason, the solution of choice appears to be single-sex education. Journalist Christine Flowers put it as follows: “males and females should mix at parties, at sporting events and in holy matrimony, but that it's far too distracting to have a member of the opposite sex sitting in class beside you.”

I disagree.

School is a place where you learn many things: logarithms, Shakespeare, basketball, how to spit and how to stay out of trouble, how to make friends and how to hurt enemies. Learning how to deal with members of the opposite sex is an integral part of the beautiful process of learning, in the fullest sense of the word.
I know the statistics, about how girls in particular, but also boys, fare better in single-sex schools. I know that in New Zealand, some secondary schools are choosing to split boys and girls in subjects such as English, Maths and Science. In England, parents are choosing single-gender schools. In European countries where co-ed education has been the only mainstream option since the Second World War, private single-sex schools are mushrooming.

To all that I say: stop, think. Boys’ brains differ from girls’ brains, nobody can argue with that. Boys and girls are developmentally and psychologically different, true. And yet, it would be a gross error to generalise along the gender lines to say “all boys need mobility and a certain level of noise during the learning process, while all girls need to sit still in a quiet room in order to concentrate better.”
Teachers need to recognise it and learn how to bring out the best in everyone, and Learning Style Analysis ( is the best place to start. That’s where teachers find out whether their pupils need visual stimuli or kinesthetic activities, brightly lit rooms or a sip of water, external rewards or rigid guidelines, early morning tests or background music, in order to learn to the best of their potential.

STOP PRESS: “Michigan Governor Jennifer Granholm announced in July 2006 that she had signed the first bill on the way to allowing single-sex education in Michigan.”
How many pupils in Michigan have had their Learning Styles assessed, I wonder.

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