Single-Sex Education

Manila Bulletin, August 18, 2012 | Go to article overview

Single-Sex Education


A MUCH-DEBATED topic these days in Canada, Great Britain, and the United States is the growing popularity of what is called single-sex education as opposed to coeducation. Though the perspectives there are culturally different from ours in the Philippines, where single-sex education as an elitist kind of education has existed since the coming of the Spanish friars in the sixteenth century, the information from the debate can still be seen as valuable. In the Philippines, the Catholic Church with its religious orders for women established exclusive convent schools for girls. The various priestly religious orders, like the Jesuits, Dominicans, and Augustinians, among others, established premier educational institutions for boys. To this day, single-sex education is largely associated with Catholic education. For centuries, the elite have sent their children to these expensive, private, single-sex, Catholic educational institutions. The public school system, on the other hand, was coeducational, and continues as such to this day. In this way, in the Philippines, this issue has an "elitist" flavor.

Predictably, the arguments going around these days among proponents of single-sex education in the countries named above focus largely on the popular issue of gender bias, which has obsessed the West since the last century. The greatest advantage, according to present-day studies of single-sex schools, is that the single-sex environment encourages great freedom of educational and personality growth without any gender bias. Yes, not having a mix of boys and girls as classmates eradicates comparisons and competition between the sexes. Studies have debunked at least one myth -- that boys do better when motivated to show that boys can do better than girls.

The second advantage, according to present-day studies, is that academic topics in single-sex schools are widely presented with a non-gender perspective. There are no "boy" topics or "girl" topics. For example, topics that encourage independent thinking, mathematics, or physical strength, in coed schools, seem to be addressed to boys. Topics that encourage home care or personal service seem to be taken up for the girls. Comparisons are rife and even discomfiting, as boys tend to see things as "only for girls" with a lot of teasing on the side included. In other words, in single-sex schools, the tendency is to have an atmosphere that is both liberating and comforting.

The other aspect of education is not just the academic growth of students but their social growth. Nowadays, children are a disappearing breed, so to speak. Exposed through media to all sorts of adult situations, children are in a huge hurry to grow up. Fashion encourages this too. Hence, being in a single-sex environment lessens a lot of the peer pressure to accomplish personal adjustments to the opposite sex.

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