By Sharon Aschaiek
Benefits of a Shared World or a School of Their Own
Given gender stereotypes and differences between the sexes, the question has yet to be settled: Do girls and boys learn better together or separately?
A key consideration when choosing a private education for a child is whether to go with a single-sex or coeducational school. The right choice will depend on which school of thought on the subject resonates most with you.
David Robertson, headmaster at Shawnigan Lake School, a coed boarding high school in B.C., says boys and girls ultimately have a more enriching educational experience when they get to learn together. "There's a cross-pollination that goes on in the academic environment," Robertson says. "The diligence and attentiveness of girls positively affects boys, while the liveliness of boys inspires girls. They learn from and are inspired by each other."
Coed schools better prepare girls and boys for post-secondary school and employment by providing ongoing opportunities to work together, he adds. "They learn to work together productively, which is what they will be expected to do throughout their life. So there is good preparation happening for university and beyond."
Since coeducation is the norm in North American public schools, most of the research in the field has focused on the efficacy of single-sex education. Single-Sex Education: What Does Research Tell Us?, a 2010 review of several studies on single-sex education in English-speaking countries, found little consensus on whether the option is actually advantageous to girls' and boys' academic achievement.
However, single-sex education proponents argue boys and girls learn differently, and single-sex schools consider these differences to create customized programs that optimize success.
"In coed schools, boys tend to populate the lower end of the academic spectrum," says Brad Adams, executive director of the International Boys' Schools Coalition. "Boys' schools specialize in designing curriculum that hooks boys into learning."
At boys' schools, boys are more engaged in learning without being in a gender pressure cooker, Adams adds.
"They have a longer time to be boys and to explore various interests, for example, in the arts, without getting straitjacketed into some stereotypical gender role, such as the jock," he explains.
The main strength of all-boys and all-girls schools is reflected in the 2008 study Single-Sex Schooling and Academic Attainment at School and Through the Lifecourse. The study found that the option helps students succeed in gender-atypical subjects; for example, girls will perform better in math and science, and boys will do better in English and modern languages.
For girls, much of the benefit lies in developing their personhood in an environment free of persistent traditional gender stereotypes that can hold women back.
"In many ways, gender dynamics have not changed, and in most of the world, public life is still the domain of men, and domestic life that of women," says Burch Ford, president of the U.S.-based National Coalition of Girls' Schools (NCGS). "Girls' schools provide not only a physical but a psychological space where that part of our culture is left at the door, and girls have the freedom to explore who they are and who they want to become."
Girls who attend single-sex schools outscore their coed counterparts on the SAT by an average of 28 to 43 points, and nearly 100 per cent of girls' school graduates go on to college, according to the NCGS.
"In girls' schools, there is no social consequence for speaking out, challenging ideas and being yourself, which allows girls to develop the kind of critical- and creative-thinking skills that are essential in the 21st-century workforce," Ford says.