Single-sex primary and secondary education is a controversial topic that is widely discussed in research. Whereas some scholars believe that sexually segregated classrooms are beneficial for students of both sexes, others argue that they promote gender discrimination and stereotyping. Still, schools offering sexually segregated education are popular around the world. According to Gross-Loh (2014), over 500 American public schools offer some forms of single-sex education to students. Benefits provided by single-sex education are thought to include an improved focus on academic accomplishments, reduced gender gap in achievement, and improved learning overall. Integrated classrooms, on the other hand, promote inclusivity and minimize gender stereotypes while also encouraging cooperation and communication across genders. The present essay will compare the rationale for both education options and show how mixed classrooms can be more beneficial to students than the sexually segregated ones.
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Focus on Learning
One of the primary reasons for the popularity of single-sex primary and secondary classrooms is that they are thought to help students focus on learning. Gross-Loh (2014) offers testimony from a female student involved in an all-girls school: “The value was put on who we were, not what we look like” (para. 1). Indeed, in a sexually segregated environment, students can worry less about their looks and impressing the opposite sex. The competition among students is based solely on their academic accomplishments, which can have a positive effect on learning.
However, by removing the distractions associated with the opposite gender, single-sex classrooms also create a highly controlled environment. In particular, students are not given the opportunity to learn how to balance their academic career and personal life. This could affect their success in high school, further education, and work. Therefore, although sexually segregated classrooms could improve academic accomplishment in the short term, co-education classrooms teach students how to reach balance in life, thus being more beneficial in the long term.
Gender Differences in Learning
From the scientific point of view, the rationale for single-sex classrooms is that boys and girls have different tendencies and abilities when it comes to learning. According to a report by the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA, 2015), boys and girls develop at different rates. This creates variability in learning patterns and behaviors. For instance, boys are believed to be more proactive and confident in classrooms, thus overshadowing girls, who are thought to be timid. Other gender differences in learning may include cognitive development, memory, and abilities in certain subject areas. Based on this rationale, it appears that sexually segregated classrooms would help to tailor the learning process to students’ needs, thus encouraging academic success.
Nevertheless, research on academic achievement in co-education and single-sex schools does not show a significant improvement in academics. A thorough meta-analysis performed by Pahlke, Hyde, and Allison (2014) evaluated 184 studies carried out in 21 countries and including over 1.6 million students. The researchers found that the studies showing improved academic results in single-sex classrooms were poorly controlled and of low methodological quality. Controlled, high-quality research studies, on the other hand, only noted trivial differences in academic achievement in mathematics and science (Pahlke et al., 2014). Thus, the study shows that the influence of gender differences on learning is overestimated, and sexually segregated classrooms do not provide significant benefits in terms of academic scores compared to integrated education systems.
Gender Stereotyping and Discrimination
Other important factors that require consideration are gender stereotyping and discrimination. Proponents of single-sex education often argue that teachers may be biased against students of a particular gender. UCLA (2015) notes that some teachers may favor boys over girls, while others may be overprotective of girls. In sexually segregated classrooms, these concerns are addressed, which supposedly leads to reduced favoritism and promotes the equality of opportunity for all students.
However, the opponents of the practice believe that single-sex primary and secondary education leads to gender stereotyping and discrimination in further life. For example, Gross-Loh (2014) mentions a widespread belief that “like racial segregation, separation of the sexes will lead to entrenched gender stereotyping and sexism” (para. 12). This effect could be based on the fact that, while studying in sexually segregated settings, boys and girls have fewer opportunities to communicate with one another. Limited experience of interactions with the opposite sex could lead them to form assumptions based on popular gender stereotypes, thus reinforcing them. Reducing gender stereotyping and discrimination requires free communication between the sexes, which is limited in sexually segregated settings. Co-educational schooling, on the other hand, provides students with the experience of working together with the members of the opposite sex. Therefore, it could help to prevent stereotyping and discrimination of boys and girls.
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Gender gaps in academic and career achievement are persistent in our society. In primary and secondary school settings, gender gaps in achievement affect students’ ability to progress to high school and college seamlessly. In particular, boys are believed to dominate in classrooms, thus giving girls fewer opportunities to excel in their learning (UCLA, 2015). This is truly an important issue that, coupled with teachers’ frequent favoritism of boys, may lead to low grades, impaired self-confidence, and limited pathways to future learning in female students. Gender gaps in academic achievements could also translate to their future careers, thus reinforcing gender inequality in the society. Single-sex education is believed to combat these challenges by controlling the learning environment (UCLA, 2015). However, this only addresses a minor part of a significant issue.
Inequality of opportunity, which is the main reason for gender achievement gaps, depends not only on gender, but on race, sexuality, nationality, and social status. Specific groups of people attempt to dominate others based on their privileged position. Gender inequality in education is one of many examples of this issue. Thus, in single-sex classrooms, students could still suffer from achievement gaps based on racial, ethnic, or social factors. The only way to eliminate achievement gaps in education is to address the source of the problem by training teachers to provide equal opportunities to all students. If teachers have the knowledge and experience needed to avoid favoritism and discrimination, they can help to erase achievement gaps both in co-education and sexually segregated settings.
The present paper discussed some of the perceived benefits of sexually segregated primary and secondary classrooms versus the now-traditional integrated settings. Based on the analysis, it is evident that co-education classrooms are more beneficial for students than single-sex ones, as they provide valuable experience of working with students of the opposite sex. This contributes to success in future academic and professional career while also assisting in reducing gender stereotyping and discrimination. Furthermore, the essay showed that same-sex schooling does not address the causes of achievement gaps in education. Therefore, with sufficient training of teachers, integrated primary and secondary classrooms have a more positive effect on students’ academic success and their personal lives than sexually segregated education.
Gross-Loh, C. (2014). The never-ending controversy over all-girls education. The Atlantic. Web.
Pahlke, E., Hyde, J. S., & Allison, C. M. (2014). The effects of single-sex compared with coeducational schooling on students’ performance and attitudes: A meta-analysis. Psychological Bulletin, 140(4), 1042-1072.
University of California Los Angeles (UCLA). (2015). Single-sex education: Pros and cons. Web.