The Dilemma of Gender Segregation in Schools

By Evalyne Justus from Kenya.

Gender segregation in schools has been a question in the minds of many, especially those caught in between the choice to take their children to gender mixed schools or to the single gender ones. Before the fight for equality between men and women began gender segregation was not much of an issue as each party was comfortable at its place or maybe caught up in it. Equality between men and women has been the main reason this has become an issue, seeing that much as we claim we are trying to give men and women equal opportunities it has to begin from the grassroots i.e. ensuring that both boys and girls go to the same schools, get taught by the same teachers and generally get the same conditions for their education. For cases like Africa however, girls never went to school, so taking them to school now and giving them the same conditions as boys is still not seen as equality. From this point equity tops the game; equity will require that we build more girls’ only schools to ensure that girls from each region get a place in school. Taking us back to the question is gender segregation in schools beneficial or detrimental?

In Africa where girl child education is experiencing drawbacks of culture, a girls’ only school would be ideal to minimise the fear of girls being mocked by the elder boys who in some places still believe that a woman’s place is in the kitchen or a girl in this case. Those who still hold dear the believe that educating girls is a waste of money since eventually she will get married and stay at home. Concentration in class in this case will greatly increase when these thoughts are far away even if it is only for some few hours.

Perfect cages: Gender segregated schools are the best cages there are once adolescence hits hard and emotions are raging like ocean waves, fast enough to catch up and strong enough to capsize the vessel. This to me has been the main reason why we cannot do away with gender segregation in schools all together. In gender mixed schools there is so much pressure to impress the opposite gender. That is when “do not touch my ankle” trousers and short tight skirts start becoming a necessity on every teenager’s secret shopping list. Small notes and strongly scented letters start exchanging hands during study time or “more romantically” love symbols fill all the algebra text book pages as the teacher is busy explaining how grasping the volume ratio concept will be of great help in the final exam. We cannot blame the emotions as this is how the human body is wired to function. Gender segregated schools serve as limits on the continuously exploding emotions. There is not much imagination and the explosions are fewer. In the event that the emotions cannot be caged, gender segregated schools offer another option.

The Training camp: Just like army recruits go to training camps, where conditions are tough, getting in shape is the order of the day and most importantly learning the customs and courtesies of the branch you joined, so are the gender segregated schools. The conditions are tough, “opposite genders are allowed up to this point, If caught doing otherwise you will be punished” for cases when the opposite gender visit the school. Getting in shape too through exercise is also encouraged in gender segregated schools. I remember in high school which was a girls’ only school, every teacher and guest speaker would insist that we go to the field every day. They did not make it clear then, why it was so important but now I know it was meant to release the pent up emotions and frustrations of not seeing the opposite gender even when it was an emergency. With time, in these schools, the emotions are under control, no blurred decisions and like army recruits on their graduation, there is a sense of accomplishment in each graduate’s heart and also in every student who attended a single gender school and survived the hard conditions.

On matters of education however, gender segregated schools take the bottom lead. Both genders have not had the exposure of coexisting with each other hence they sometimes do not understand each other. The competition that both genders offer inspires the other gender to do more and better. Decades ago when mathematics and sciences were viewed as boys subjects, a girl who excelled in the same would prove to the others that it was possible to make it too similar to a boy who excelled in music and arts which then were considered girls subjects. This exposure has contributed immensely to effective cooperation between men and women in the working world.

In the long run, the question of whether gender segregation in school is beneficial or detrimental lies wholly on the motive behind the need to segregate or not to segregate.

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