Single-sex education, also known as single-gender education, is the practice of conducting education where male and female students attend separate classes or in separate buildings or schools. The practice was common before the nineteenth century, particularly in secondary education and higher education. Single-sex education in many cultures is advocated on the basis of tradition as well as religion, and is practiced in many parts of the world. Recently, there has been a surge of interest and establishment of single-sex schools due to educational research.
Before the 19th century, single-sex schooling was common. During the 19th century, more and more coeducational schools were set up. Together with mass education, the practice of coeducation was universalized in many parts. In 1917 coeducation was mandated in the Soviet Union. According to Cornelius Riordan, "By the end of the nineteenth century, coeducation was all but universal in American elementary and secondary public schools (see Kolesnick, 1969; Bureau of Education, 1883; Butler, 1910; Riordan, 1990). And by the end of the 20th century, this was largely true across the world. Wiseman (2008) shows that by 2003, only a few countries across the globe have greater than one or two percent single sex schools. But there are exceptions where the percent of single sex schools exceeds 10 percent: Belgium, Chile, Singapore, The United Kingdom, Hong Kong, Israel, New Zealand, Australia, Korea, and most Muslim nations. Recently, however, there has been a resurgence of interest in single sex schools in modern societies across the globe, both in the public and private sector (Riordan, 2002)."
Effects of single-sex education
The topic of single-sex education is controversial. Advocates argue that it aids student outcomes such as test scores, graduation rates, and solutions to behavioral difficulties. Opponents, however, argue that evidence for such effects is inflated or non-existent, and instead argue that such segregation can lead to increased prejudice and cost students social skills.
Advocates of single-sex education believe that there are persistent gender differences in how boys and girls learn and behave in educational settings, and that such differences merit educating them separately. One version of this argument holds that brains of males and females develop differently. Proponents reference these developmental differences to argue that by separating students according to sex, the educator is able to meet the needs according to the developmental trajectory of the different genders.
A systematic review published in 2005 covering 2221 studies was commissioned by the US Department of Education entitled Single-sex versus coeducational schooling: A systematic review. The review, which had statistical controls for socio-economic status of the students and resources of the schools, etc., found that the results of studies on the effects of single-sex schooling "are equivocal. There is some support for the premise that single-sex schooling can be helpful, especially for certain outcomes related to academic achievement and more positive academic aspirations. For many outcomes, there is no evidence of either benefit or harm. There is limited support for the view that single-sex schooling may be harmful or that coeducational schooling is more beneficial for student." It also said that "In general, most studies reported positive effects for SS schools on all-subject achievement tests," and "The preponderance of studies in areas such as academic accomplishment (both concurrent and long term) and adaptation or socioemotional development (both concurrent and long term) yields results lending support to SS schooling." The quantitative data itself “finds positive results are three to four times more likely to be found for single sex schools than for coeducational schools in the same study for both academic achievement and socio-emotional development,” said Cornelius Riordan, one of the directors of the research.
In 2008, the US government sponsored another study, Early Implementation of Public Single-Sex Schools: Perceptions and Characteristics, which listed the benefits of single-sex schools: (1) Decreases distractions in learning, (2) Reduces student behavior problems, (3) Provides more leadership opportunities, (4) Promotes a sense of community among students and staff, (5) Improves student self-esteem, (6) Addresses unique learning styles and interests of boys or girls, (7) Decreases sex bias in teacher-student interactions, (8) Improves student achievement, (9) Decreases the academic problems of low achieving students, (10) Reduces sexual harassment among students, (11) Provides more positive student role models, (12) Allows for more opportunities to provide social and moral guidance, (13) Provides choice in public education.
The Teachers College Record published a study in 2009 that showed that in majority of cases, the effect of the interaction between boys and girls has resulted in less homework done, less enjoyment of school, lower reading and math scores.
A UCLA research of 2009 reported that "Female graduates of single-sex high schools demonstrate stronger academic orientations than their coeducational counterparts across a number of different categories, including higher levels of academic engagement, SAT scores, and confidence in mathematical ability and computer skills...The report's findings, drawn from multiple categories, including self-confidence, political and social activism, life goals, and career orientation, reveal that female graduates of single-sex schools demonstrate greater academic engagement: Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of single-sex independent school alumnae report spending 11 or more hours per week studying or doing homework in high school, compared with less than half (42 percent) of female graduates of coeducational independent schools."
In September 2011, the journal Science published a study deeply critical of the evidence behind positive effects of gender segregation in schooling, arguing that the movement towards single-sex education "is deeply misguided, and often justified by weak, cherry-picked, or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence." The study goes on to conclude that "there is no well-designed research showing that single-sex (SS) education improves students' academic performance, but there is evidence that sex segregation increases gender stereotyping and legitimizes institutional sexism."
Opponents of single-sex education, including the authors of the Science article referenced above, argue that it is not single-sex education that is producing positive results with students but rather it is the motivation of the teacher and the resources that are available. There is a lack of quality research in the field to attribute success to single-sex schooling rather than extraneous factors. They believe that by having a single-sex school the children are not prepared for the real world, where they would need to communicate with members of the opposite sex. They argue that coeducational schools break down sexist attitudes through interaction with the opposite sex. Other opponents of single-sex education also argue that it is coeducational schools create a feeling of safety and a sense of mutual respect.
Leonard Sax, the President of National Association for Single-sex Public Education or NASSPE countered the Science article by saying that "ALL the studies cited in the SCIENCE article regarding 'negative impacts' were in fact studies involving a small number of PRE-SCHOOL students attending a COED pre-kindergarten" (capitalized letters in the original). He further said that "these authors provide no evidence for their substantive claim that 'gender divisions are made even more salient in SS settings.' In fact, this conjecture has been tested, and proven false, in multiple studies." Sax cited a study which said that "girls in the all-girls classroom were less aware of 'being a girl' and less aware of gender stereotypes regarding science, compared to girls who were randomly assigned to the coed classroom."
In January 2012, a study of the University of Pennsylvania was published, involving a randomized experiment, considered the experiment with the highest level of scientific evidence. The data comes from schools in South Korea, where a law was passed randomly assigning students to schools in their district. The study by Park, Berhman and Choi titled Causal Effects of Single-Sex Schools on College Entrance Exams and College Attendance: Random Assignment in Seoul High Schools concluded that “Attending all-boys schools or all-girls schools rather than attending coeducational schools is significantly associated with higher average scores.”
Single-sex education by country
In Australia, over a third of students attend schools that are fee paying independent or Catholic schools. A significant proportion of the independent schools and some of the Catholic schools are single sex. The proportion of students from independent schools attending single-sex schools, dropped from 31% in 1985 to 24% in 1995. In secondary schools, 55% of boys and 54% of girls went to single-sex schools, in 1985. However by 1995 the proportion attending single-sex secondary schools had dropped to 41% of boys and 45% of girls. There are a small number of single sex government schools.
In 2001,the Australian Council for Educational Research after six years of study of more 270,000 students, in 53 academic subjects, showed that boys and girls from single-sex classrooms "scored on average 15 to 22 percentile ranks higher than did boys and girls in coeducational settings. The report also documented that boys and girls in single-sex schools were more likely to be better behaved and to find learning more enjoyable and the curriculum more relevant.'"
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In Bangladesh, a large number of city schools and colleges are single-sex institutions except for universities. Notable all Cantonment schools (non-residential schools run directly by Military), Zilla Schools ( run directly by Government[First starting in early colonial ages]), Cadet colleges ( residential schools run directly by Military) are single-sex schools.
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In the 17th century, schooling was first introduced to females, however it was very limited and usually was restricted to religious instruction and needling. Later in the mid-19th century schooling was still separated by sex so to the extent that boys and girls had separate entrances and recess areas. After compulsory education, single-sex classrooms were first introduced in some Ontario schools when a gap was noticed between the achievement in literacy for boys and the lack of achievement in mathematics for girls. Recently, there has been a change in reasons behind creating single-sex classrooms. A shift has been discovered in achievement in boys’ learning. Since the mid-1990s, boys' achievement stakeholders have noticed a lag in boys achievement when compared to girls. This lag has been noticed in several different subject areas.
In India, boys are said to do better in single-sex classrooms because of the varying educational needs of boys when compared to girls. However, the number of single-sex state schools has dropped substantially over the past 40 years, from 2,500 to 400. Figures indicate that, as of 2002, 53% of girls in the Indian population actually attend schools. Some conservative parents may decide to withdraw their daughters at the age of puberty onset because of fear of distraction. It is also believed that by having single-sex classrooms the students will be able to focus more on their education, as they will not have the distraction of the other sex. The study argues that co-education schools provide opportunities for students to interact with their peers which de-stresses students and creates a friendlier, more relaxed environment.
However, in the Middle East in most places it is mandatory for schools to be single-sex schools. Each school accepts boys or girls exclusively. In places where sharia is the law, students attend sex-segregated public schools. In the Islamic Republic of Iran, single-sex public schools have been in place since the Islamic Revolution. Universities are mostly coeducational in Iran.
In the United Arab Emirates, private schools are mostly coeducational, while public schools are segregated.
In Syria, private schools are coeducational, while public schools are mostly, but not exclusively, segregated. Universities are all coeducational.
In Israel secular schools are usually coeducational and religious schools are usually single-sex, although there are exceptions.
In Lebanon on the other hand, co-educational schools can be found in most territories of the country.
In Nigeria, public opinion regarding sexes in schools is influenced most by religious and cultural beliefs rather than the idea that students learn better separated into sexes. Because of this, the attitude towards the separation/integration of sexes varies depending on the ethnic makeup of the region. People in northern Nigeria are mostly Muslim and as a result, are more inclined to choose single-sex education over co-education in-line with their religious beliefs. However country-wide, co-education schools are more common than single-sex schools.
In contrast to the predominance of co-education schools, many prestigious educational institutions only accept one sex, major examples are, King's College and Queen's College situated in Lagos. At university level, although the sexes are not separated in the classroom, it is common practice to employ a single sex housing policy on university campuses e.g. Covenant University.
Most of the schools in Karachi, Lahore, Hyderabad, Islamabad and Rawalpindi are co-education,whereas all colleges and universities in these cities are co-education. In some cities, single-sex education is preferred, like Peshawar and Quetta, where many schools are single-sex educational, but there are also schools which are co-educational. Also, most people prefer co-education over single-sex education.
Single-sex schooling was traditionally the norm for secondary schools in the United Kingdom, especially for private, grammar and secondary modern schools, but most UK schools are now coeducational. In the state sector of the U.K. education system, the only single-sex primary schools are Winterbourne Junior Boys' School and Winterbourne Junior Girls' School (both in the London Borough of Croydon), Sir Jonathan North community College and The Lancaster School (situated adjacent to each other in Leicester City). The number of single-sex state schools has fallen from nearly 2,500 to just over 400 in 40 years. According to Alan Smithers, Professor of Education at Buckingham University, there was no evidence that single-sex schools were consistently superior. However, a 2009 analysis of Key Stage 2 and GCSE scores of more than 700,000 girls has revealed that those in all-female comprehensives make better progress than those who attend mixed secondaries. The largest improvements came among those who did badly at primary school, although pupils of all abilities are more likely to succeed if they go to single-sex state schools, the study indicates. A government-backed review in 2007, amid fears that girls tend to be pushed aside in mixed-sex classrooms, recommended that to maximise results the sexes should be taught differently. A major longitudinal study of over 17,000 individuals examined whether single-sex schooling made a difference for a wide range of outcomes, including academic attainment, earnings, marriage, childbearing and divorce. The authors found that girls fared better in examinations at age 16 at single-sex schools, while boys achieved similar results at single-sex or co-educational schools. Girls rated their abilities in maths and sciences higher if they went to a girls’ school, and boys rated their abilities in English higher if they went to a boys’ school, i.e. gender stereotyping was weaker in the single-sex sector. Later in life, women who had been to single-sex schools went on to earn higher wages than women who had been to co-educational schools.
A major event that affected single-sex schooling in the US was when the Title IX amendments of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 were passed in 1972. In the Encyclopedia of Women and Gender it explains the Title IX as being, “ Founded on the premises of equal opportunity, equal access, and full integration, it focused on providing complete access to participation in all functions of schooling, regardless of gender” (Sex Segregation In Education, 2001). Many feminists fought for the passage of this law. The goal was to ban all sex discrimination in any education program which received financial aid from the government. It was stated specifically on the Department of Education website as, “No person in the US, on the basis of sex, can be excluded from the participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance”.
The main cause which lead to the start of more public schools having single-sex classes or entire schools was when the reforms to the Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 were passed in 2006. Originally Title IX had allowed separation of males and females in certain areas in school prior to the new changes. For example they were allowed to have single gender classes for physical-education when there were contact sports involved and also for sex-education classes. Kasic (2008) indicates that the new regulations allow nonvocational public schools to still receive funding if they offer single-sex classes or entire single-sex schools, but in order to start these programs they have to have a governmental or educational objective. These programs are also required to be voluntary, so public schools cannot be required to offer these single-sex programs and if they do they cannot force students to participate in them. Diana Schemo explains in a New York Times article, “Until now, publics school districts that offered a school to one sex generally had to provide a comparable school for students of the other sex. The new rules, however say districts can simply offer such students the option to attend comparable coeducational schools” (Schemo, 2006, p. 2). Since these regulations were approved the number of public schools offering single-sex programs has been on a steady inclined due to the fact that the rules are more flexible.
In the United States, the Supreme Court ruled on the constitutionality of single-sex public education in the 1996 case of United States v. Virginia. This ruling, written by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg concluded that single-sex education in the public sector is constitutional only if comparable courses, services, and facilities are made available to both sexes. The No Child Left Behind Act contains provisions (sections 5131.a.23. and 5131c, 20 U.S.C. section 7215(a)(23), and section 7215(c)) designed by their authors — senators Hillary Clinton (D-NY) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX) — to facilitate single-sex education in public schools. These provisions led to the publication of new federal rules in October 2006 to allow districts to create single-sex schools and classes provided that 1) enrollment is voluntary, and 2) comparable courses, services, and facilities are available to both sexes. The number of public schools offering single-sex classrooms rose from 4 in 1998 to 540 in 2010, according to the web site of the National Association for Single Sex Public Education.
Education Next and the Program on Education Policy and Governance at Harvard University sponsored a nationwide survey conducted by Knowledge Networks in early 2008. More than one-third of Americans said that parents should have the option of sending their child to a single-sex school.
- Riordan, C. (2009). The Effects of Single Sex Schools: Alced. Argentina
- C. Riordan (2011). The Value of Single Sex Education: Twenty Five Years of High Quality Research, Third International Congress of the European Association for Single Sex Education, Warsaw, Poland.
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- U.S. Department of Education, “Single-sex versus coeducational schooling: A systematic review” (Department of Education, Washington, DC, 2005)
- Riordan, C. (2007). The Effects of Single Sex Schools: What Do We Know? Building Gender-Sensitive Schools: First International Congress on Single Sex Education. Barcelona
- Riordan, C., Faddis, B., Beam, M, Seager, A., Tanney, A., DiBiase R., Ruffin M., Valentine, J. (2008). Early Implementation of Public Single-Sex Schools: Perceptions and Characteristics. Washington D.C.
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- Australian Bureau of Statistics Retrieved August 17, 2007
- "Our Children", Smile Foundation, December 29, 2011.
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- AdventureDivas: IRAN: Groundwork
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- Sullivan, A., Joshi, H. and Leonard, D. (2011) ‘Single-sex schooling and labour market outcomes’. Oxford Review of Education 37(3) 311-322. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/03054985.2010.545194
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- Single-sex Schools for Girls and Gender Equality, UNESCO Brief, 2007
- Single sex environments and gender differences in risk aversion
- European Association of Single-sex Education (EASSE)
- National Association for single sex public education
- Single Sex Education
- American Council for CoEducational Schooling (ACCES)