Before John Gray wrote the best-selling “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus,” these were the norm:
You dress your little girl in her Sunday best, and she’ll look just as pretty when you make it to church an hour later. Dress a boy in his Sunday best, and he’ll somehow find every muddy puddle from your home to the church.
A little girl will pick up a stick and look in wonderment at what nature has made. A little boy will pick up a stick and turn it into a gun.
When girls play with Barbie and Ken dolls, they like to dress them up and play house. When boys play with Barbie and Ken dolls, they like to throw them around like balls.
Girls will cry if someone dies in a movie. Boys will cry if you turn off the VCR after they’ve watched the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie three times in a row.
Girls turn into women. Boys turn into bigger boys.
Raul Nidoy, Ph.D, executive director of Parents for Education Foundation (Paref) and a member of the Association for Single-sex Education in Asia, likes to begin with those quotes when giving a talk on the advantages of single-sex education vis-à-vis the coed environment.
It seemed logical as early as the 19th century to separate the girls when they were finally allowed to go to school. (Pre-1800s, only the boys had access to education!).
In the 1900s, the shift to coeducation began due to financial considerations and “gender equality,” but with little or no regard for educational research. That sums up why boys and girls have been going to school together, with exceptions.
Fast forward to the late ’90s—modern research pointed to the advantages of separating the boys from the girls, resulting in a resurgence of interest in single-sex education.
In the United States, there were only four public schools in 1998 that offered single-sex education. By July 2006 the number rose to 223.
In November 2007 it became 366, and by April 2009 there were 540 single-gender public schools.
When US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was senator in 2001, she said the government was working toward making single-gender education “available as an option for all children, not just for children of parents wealthy enough to afford private schools.”
The best research on single-gender schooling was commissioned by the US government in 2005. The study, “Single-sex vs. Coeducational Schooling: A Systematic Review,” demonstrated “a single-sex school advantage by far” over coed schools.
The study found better results in math, science, English and social studies, but it also learned that advantages extended to social and emotional development of the children.
Just how is it that students from all-boys and all-girls schools performed better?
There are more than a dozen reasons, explains Nidoy. “For one, teachers observe that there are less distractions. Children, as it is, are prone to distraction. What more when they are with the other sex who have a different learning style.”
Quite contrary to the perception that kids are helped by the presence of the opposite sex to behave better, Nidoy says that, based on studies, when kids of the same sex are together (boys with boys, and girls with girls), they give themselves more mutual support, a sense of community and greater confidence. Thus, they participate more and are more engaged.
According to the study, it is also not true that coed schools turn out more well-rounded students, since these schools tend to perpetuate stereotypes of girls as good in creative arts and boys as strong in math, science and leadership.
In single-sex schools, students are given more opportunities to develop without suffering from biases.
While there are instances in which kids get inspired by the opposite sex to study harder, Nidoy says these are the exceptions.
In most cases, based on recent research findings, the effect of the interaction between the two sexes means less homework done, less enjoyment of school, and lower reading and math scores.
Less behavior problems
The US government research points to less sexual harassment, less delinquency and other student behavior problems, more community involvement, more positive self-concept among children, more positive student role models, more leadership opportunities, and higher career aspirations. Children in these schools put more value on grades and leadership rather than on attractiveness and money. These schools also allow for more opportunities for social and moral guidance.
Among the most common concerns voiced out by parents is the fear that their children, specially those in the high school level, wouldn’t learn how to deal with the opposite sex. Nidoy says one only needs to observe how alumni of the top single-sex schools are very much capable of dealing with the opposite sex, and in fact are known to have an edge in terms of culture, manners and self-confidence.
Children have better chances of getting into the university of their choice when they come from a single-sex school. Nidoy says there was a randomized experiment done on this in Korea, whose results were published in January 2012.
The study found that 45 percent of boys from single-sex schools entered college compared with only 39 percent of the boys from coed schools. For the girls, it’s 44 percent of girls from all-girls schools and 40 percent of girls from coed schools.
The research concluded that “attending all-boys schools or all-girls schools, rather than attending coeducational schools, is significantly associated with higher average scores.”
And it is not that well-to-do students enroll in single-sex schools that makes it effective. Four studies have actually found that single-sex schools “are significantly favorable for students who are historically or traditionally disadvantaged-minorities and/or low and working class and/or at-risk students.”
Cornelius Riordan, project director of the US Department of Education research, found that “the [beneficial] effects of single-sex schools are greatest among black or Hispanic females from low socioeconomic homes.”
Reverse in PH
Why is it then that, in the Philippines, the reverse is happening—many single-sex private schools have gone or are going coed, and the trend continues?
Asked why single-sex schooling was not being offered as the mainstream way of educating Filipino children when the advantages were very clear, Nidoy says his group had written then Education Secretary Armin Luistro about adopting it in the public schools.
Riordan has declared that “21st-century education will be single-sex schooling.”
Aside from the remarkable growth of single-sex education in the United States—from only four public schools in 1998 to 509 by 2011-12—more than 1,000 other public schools already offer at least some classes in single-sex format.
This was after the US Senate in 2001 amended a 1972 law that made coeducation obligatory in public schools. It decided to provide $450 million yearly to support single-sex education.
Another US government-sponsored study in 2008, called Early Implementation of Public Single-Sex Schools: Perceptions and Characteristics, Washington, D.C., lists the benefits of single-sex schooling:
1) Decreases distractions in learning
2) Reduces student behavior problems
3) Provides more leadership opportunities
4) Promotes a sense of community among students and staff
5) Improves student self-esteem
6) Addresses unique learning styles and interests of boys or girls
7) Decreases sex bias in teacher-student interactions
8) Improves student achievement
9) Decreases the academic problems of low achieving students
10) Reduces sexual harassment among students
11) Provides more positive student role models
12) Allows for more opportunities to provide social and moral guidance; and
13) Provides choice in public education.
The Australian Council for Educational Research in 2001 found that “boys and girls from single-sex schools scored on the average 15-22 percentile ranks higher than children from coed schools,” according to a six-year study of 270,000 students from coed and single-sex schools. The study also concluded that “coed schools are limited in their capacity to accommodate large differences in cognitive, social and developmental rates of boys and girls.”
In single-sex schools, according to the Australian study, the curriculum was more demanding, the atmosphere more pleasant, and student behavior better.
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