Are co-ed schools the best environment for students?

By Maria Del Pilar Ruiz. Maria is a graduate of UCD Smurfit School, Dublin, but is from Asunción, Paraguay.

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.

21 comments on “Are co-ed schools the best environment for students?

  1. Sally Rochford on

    I normally propose a different view as my gut instinct tells me that co-ed schools are better for preparing children for college education and the working world which are mixed sex. However this article has brought up valid benefits of single sex schools which I am more aware of now- very well written Maria.

  2. BGordon on

    Interesting article! You really outlined a clear and concise argument in favour of single-sex education! I am a bit confused by the concept of ‘academic yield’ and whether it should get ‘primacy’ in this matter. You noted that there are few pedagogical arguments for promoting co-education, but you didn’t note any of them. It would have been interesting to read those. I attend a co-educational school and I think that one serious pedagogical advantage was being able to be educated alongside girls; my education was greatly enriched by the presence of highly motivated and extremely intelligent girls in my classroom. I am more convinced that the pedagogical needs vary from individual to individual, rather than from one gender to the other and I am grateful that I attended a co-educational school and would not wish to attend a single-sex school.

  3. Maria on

    Thanks for your all your comments BGordon. Please find below answers.

    The top priority of school is to study and learn. Academic achievement is a measure of these study and learning. Furthermore, the academic yield can be decisive for entering universities or obtaining scholarships, it also suggests refined intellect, which is a support for all areas of the life and helps to shape the student mind.

    I also think that academic yield, although essential, is not everything. Weak social skills on an excellent student would hinder his post-school success. Co-ed schools argue that they offer an environment for girls and boys for social interaction. However, it is worth noting that the last years sexual harassment and sexism attitudes in co-ed schools have increased (please refer to paragraph 9). Single-sex classrooms apparently do not create isolated unsociable human beings incapable of interacting with the opposite sex, actually, many former students send their children to this type of schools. Furthermore, there are other extracurricular activities, including school ones, where the students can interact with the other sex (please refer to paragraph 10).

    A pedagogical argument of co-education is that men and woman work and live together and therefore, they should go to school together. This idea seems intuitive and obvious. However, studies of 30 years’ show not evidence at this point. Actually, co-ed classrooms reinforce sex stereotypes while single-sex school breaks them (Please refer to paragraphs 3,7). There are some excellent co-educational that do not celebrate girls’ achievements while the contrary happens in a single-sex classroom. Girls from single-sex educational have more leadership opportunities which prepare them to be leaders of tomorrow. There are subjects traditionally for boys like physics or computer science. In a co-ed environment, a girl who wants to take those classes could feel a ‘this is not for girls’ social pressure, same for a boy choosing activities that might be seen as non-macho pursuits like arts, drama, music, etc. These stereotypes can impede girls’ and boys’ achievements. In single-sex schools, the traditional-boys’ subjects are filled with girls. It is not unlikely for a girl to imagine herself as a physicist, president, or both.

    Thank you for sharing your experience, actually, I do recognize that is not uncommon for students to genuinely enjoy co-schooling. Nevertheless, I believe that single-sex schooling can be not only as enjoyable but also superior regarding academic yield besides providing an environment where students can feel free to explore their own interests and strengths, not restricted by sex stereotypes.

  4. Sofia on

    I totally agree with this article. Thank you very much Maria, your strong arguments with regard single-Sex education and their benifits into young people development is highly remarkable. I studied in a school only girls and I can say the experience, friendship, beautiful memories and great teachings that I obtained are outstanding and I keep it up until now.

  5. Ann on

    I have always been against single -sex education, but the well explained arguments highlighted different important matters to consider for the education and personal development of children.

    Is there any research or graphs comparing the sexual preferences that children tend to choose after attending each type of school?

  6. BGordon on

    In an earlier comment, I wrote that I questioned the tenet that ‘academic yield’ should get primacy. You have since pointed out that academic yield can be decisive for entering universities. I agree that this is the primary concern of many parents who enroll their children in school; in fact, the entire secondary school system could be said to be directed toward third-level/post-secondary education by design. If the goal then is to prepare students to enter universities, then how does single-sex education benefit them? Universities are co-ed institutions. When secondary students apply to universities, they will compete against students of the opposite sex. If they have been competing only against members of their own sex until that point, the results are undoubtedly distorted.

    You also point out that ‘academic yield’ suggests ‘refined intellect which supports all areas of life’, but I would argue that we cannot call an intellect truly ‘refined’ if it has only seen the world from through the lens of one sex until the age of seventeen or eighteen.

  7. Maria on

    Anthony thank you very much for your comment.
    Your point is very interesting, but I focused on the benefits of single-sex schools; a thorough comparison between the two systems was beyond the topic. If I have a chance I will love to discuss it. Nevertheless, just to give an example, there is a comparison made by the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development from the US Department of Education (DOC # 2005-01). Some outcomes were:

    For Boys:
    Single Sex schools: 39% Academic accomplishment, 40% socio-emotional development.
    Co-ed Schools: 8% Academic accomplishment, 16% socio-emotional development.

    For Girls:
    Single Sex schools: 36% Academic achievement, 70% socio-emotional development.
    Co-ed Schools: 6% Academic achievement, 7% socio-emotional development.

  8. Maria on

    Thank you Ann for your comments and time to read the article. Regarding homosexual behaviour, is not more prevalent in single-sex schools, as observes Leonard Sax, President of the National Association for Single-sex Public Education. I also think that if students have good role models of the same sex, this would contribute to identifying themselves with their own sex.

  9. Giullia on

    I didn’t no that single sex schools had so many benefits! It’s a very good article that brings awaraness of an important issue. Well done!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to our newsletter!