When Olivia, an 18-year-old student at Mentor College in Mississauga, Ontario, graduated from high school this year, she'll left with a well-rounded perspective on the value of learning in a coed environment.
For most of the time, Margie has attended coed school but she did spend two years at an all-girls separate Catholic school, in Grades 9 and 10. Looking back, Olivia is grateful for being exposed to the unique dynamic that boys bring to the school setting.
"Boys bring a different flavour to the classroom. Like one time in English last year, we read a book with a feminist aspect to it, and it was interesting to hear their take on it," Olivia says.
Coed learning has also benefited Olivia academically: a fan of the sciences, she's says these classes are more intense and engaging due to the presence of boys.
"They bring a greater sense of focus to science, which makes the classes more academically competitive," she says.
The primary advantage enjoyed by coed students is the greater opportunity to develop more complete social skills, says Rubén A. Gaztambide-Fernández, an assistant professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.
"It's documented in 40 years of education research that what matters most about school is social life, and in coed schools, there is a positive dimension in terms of the large number of opportunities for relating to each other across gender lines. Single sex schools shelter students from these opportunities," says Gaztambide-Fernández, who's also author of The Best of the Best: Becoming Elite at an American Boarding School.
These more evolved social skills can potentially have long-lasting benefits for coed students, Gaztambide-Fernández says.
"These students confront gender on a daily basis, so they're able to develop more nuanced strategies for dealing with the opposite sex—strategies that will be useful later on in life," he says.
Meanwhile, a 2006 study by market research company The Strategic Counsel found that students at coed independent high schools enjoyed school more, had greater confidence in their math, science and English abilities, and made friends more easily with members of the opposite sex than their single sex-school peers.
For Adrienne Margie, Olivia's mom, the main benefit comes from knowing her daughter will enter post-secondary school well prepared to relate to all her peers.
"I wanted Olivia to have some normalcy in her education, and boys are part of our world. I think when she graduates, this will give her an edge."
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