A United World

By Vicky Bryan. Vicky is based in Pangbourne, UK.

Imagine living in an entirely, homogenised world, where you belonged to the one and only species alive on the face of the planet. If you only knew about yourself and others like you, how could you ever broaden your horizons?

In my opinion, school is one of the most important places, where students can be brought up to be well-adapted, thoughtful, intelligent and caring adults. Teachers are trained to make sure the children in their care receive the most beneficial education possible and classes are structured to benefit the individual student and her/ his society. I believe that a school, which entirely separates one gender from another, disadvantages students and gives them a false idea of reality. How can a child function if he/ she progresses through childhood, only working on how to interact with people of the same sex in schools? Our society is much richer than that type of educational experience.

Interestingly, studies have shown that girls performed better in all-girls schools. This is more of a statement on our society, historically; at an all-girls school, girls had the opportunities to flourish and take on powerful roles, which would have most certainly been denied to them in mixed schools in the past, such as being the student body president, sports captains, house captains and other positions of authority, which would develop leadership skills, communication skills and confidence.

In contrast, the studies showed that boys performed better in mixed schools; the reasoning for this change was attributed to a desire in adolescent boys to show off to their female classmates, a type of natural selection at play, vestigially. Stereotypically, it was also an opportunity for boys to obtain more attention in comparison to the girls, which raised their beliefs in themselves and made them obtain better results.

As the decades trolled past, however, we can see that gender differences have not been clearly set and defined; they are always changing, as we work to understand the idea of gender better. For instance, there are students, who don’t fit categorically neatly into male and female roles, who question their gender roles in society and their gender. A biological male boy may identify more with traditionally female characteristics or vice-versa for a biological female. The division of classes and humans in schools needs to be re-assessed to accommodate these complicated issues of gender.

Furthermore, the roles have reversed in schools, from these original studies of girls performing better in single-sex schools and boys obtaining better results in mixed-schools. Lately, girls have been achieving much higher and better results in mixed-schools, now insinuating that in an educational setting, that somehow, be it through the books that are chosen for studies, the proportion of male to female teachers, the ways in which lessons are delivered to students, the society of manners and political correctness that favours ‘female’ ways of learning, the male students in our society are now the vulnerable ones, who perhaps may benefit from single-sex schools now.

Complexly, society and schools are interlinked and if one gender is being favoured over another, generally-speaking, then segregated schools could be a temporary relief for the vulnerable gender of the time, yet there shouldn’t be a favoured gender. Overall, the problem lies in this favouritism of one gender over another at varying times throughout history; it is very difficult to get the balance right and years of preferential treatment for males has still not been entirely rectified, despite the evidence of this newer imbalance taking place in schools. The evidence of this lies in the fact that although girls often outperform boys at school, the real world reflects a different scenario. Females often have to work twice as hard to earn half as much as their male counterparts; they are often passed over for promotions and often become all too aware of the glass ceilings that exist for them within a wide range of career paths.

Fearfully, the stereotypes are so set within our culture, our literature and our families, that it may never be overcome. Doctors are often portrayed as male, nurses as female, primary schoolteachers as female, secondary schoolteachers as mostly male, entrepreneurs as mostly male, caregiving responsibilities often lie largely with females, more firemen than firewomen and the list goes on. There are many exceptions, but not enough to change the stories that we tell ourselves in literature and the culture that our families to which our families often adhere, to explain the world to our young ones. There are many opportunities to break out of these stereotypes, but it is rarely an easy path.

Yet, school is a place where the best of society could be practised and developed: a place to learn, to question, to grow and to prosper as a society, to provide the best ways forward for our youth of today. Surely, a school that works to be free of gender biases would be of a greater benefit to all of our students, rather than one in which the promotion of segregation infers better and focussed treatment. An understanding of others is crucial in the education of our youth. Ultimately, we must stand together, because given what we’re up against, a united population is the only way humanity stands a chance.

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