When in 2010, the 107 senior students from the Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men in Chicago achieved 100% college acceptance, the situation caught the attention of many. Only four years before, just 4% of them were able to read at grade level. Since then, this outcome has been repeated every year. This success of a single-sex education system seems not to be a coincidence. While co-ed schools are more popular and accepted as social norms nowadays, the author of this article believes that single-sex schools can benefit the students even more.
The single-sex educational system is based on “timing.” Girls and boys have different “times” of physical, emotional and intellectual development. The language function in the man’s brain is 30% smaller than in the woman’s, even having the same intellectual coefficient. This does not mean that girls are more intelligent than boys: it just means that they are different. The brain differences cause girls and boys to mature at different rates and it lead to different ways to show their feelings, different ways to socialize, different motivations, needs etc. It is known that between ten and thirteen, girls develop faster than their counterparts. On the other hand, boys observe faster maturing process between fourteen and seventeen. It seems that an equal education in this age period would be a psychological contradiction. Boys and girls are equals in rights, duties, humanity, and dignity, but different in their way of learning.
Choosing this type of education seems to be a commitment to academic yield. There are statistics, reports and studies that reflect this beneficial aspect. For instance, the PISA 2003 report conducted for OECD countries shows that scores rise significantly when separating children by sex in schools. Another example is given by the Financial Times. This reported that during 25 years the first 25 places in the ‘Top independent schools’ corresponded to single-sex schools, and more than half of them were all-girl institutions. In a study carried out in 75 US secondary schools, students from single-sex schools showed higher academic yields than their co-ed peers. It is worth to note that the girls’ results were even better.
Single-sex educational systems tend to support equal opportunities. For instance, there are statistics showing that girls enroll more in science majors (traditionally for men) when they come from single-sex schools. They are six times more likely to consider math, science, and technology careers, and three times more likely to major in engineering when compared to girls attending co-ed schools. In all-boy schools, the students increase their academic level.
After years of co-education, many European countries and the United States are recalculating the direction they have taken. Outcomes like school failure (mostly for boys), absenteeism, and violence (including sexual harassment) have increased a lot. In most cases, rationales to promote co-education are based mainly on social and economic reasons, with few pedagogical arguments.
The aspiration to achieve greater social equality and equal opportunities is unanimous, however, there is a lack of scientific evidence that guarantees this equality. Some co-educational advocates think that this education would help to overcome a sexist social reality. Nevertheless, the arguments seem to be more ideological than based on experimental data.
In co-educational schools, more than a few boys take sexist attitudes of violence, as they cannot compare themselves academically with their peers. Furthermore, the Pedagogy Professor Mosconi (Paris-Nanterre) affirms that these stereotypes are reinforced in mixed schools. Ignoring differences in maturation and cognitive processes among girls and boys is unfair and detrimental to boys. In a mixed classroom, the boys’ activeness can be more exhausting for the teacher, who in turn, tends to punish them because they behave like ‘boys’. This hinders equal opportunities.
In 2003, ‘Le Monde de l’Education’ published the concerns in the co-education sector due to increasing school maladjustment of boys. The difference between girls’ higher academic yields and many boys’ failure can cause unfriendly relationships between them at school.
One objective of the co-educational system is to prepare students to interact in a society composed of men and women; nothing would be more effective than this healthy earlier coexistence. Unfortunately, not all girls feel comfortable in a co-ed environment. When younger, the boy’s greater activeness and restlessness can disturb them. Then, during puberty, they can feel being continuously observed by the opposite sex. This distracts them and makes them more aware of others than their own development. It is worth noting that anorexia figures in mixed schools are much higher than in single-sex ones. At this age, the girls working side-by-side with boys can feel vulnerable. This does not include the cases of sexual harassment that could turn the school into a nightmare.
The co-ed teaching suggests that a single-sex school would be detrimental to the student social life. They might be overlooking that in the twenty-first century, the single-sex school promotes a range of co-ed activities. For instance, debates, music, sports, drama, academic programs and so on. Furthermore, school is not the only reality of the students. They also socialize with the opposite sex at different events in or outside of the school. It is just assumed that school is not a place where the students go to meet the opposite sex to make friends or have romances. Academic yield gets the primacy.
When in 2016, all senior students of the Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men went to college on a scholarship, the fact did not go unnoticed. While listening every morning to their headmaster’s words, “there is a battle out there, and the battle is yours to win”, they feel encouraged to start a new day. It is amazing what single-sex education can achieve. It teaches each girl and each boy that there is an enormous potential in being themselves.