Single-sex education, or single-gender education, referse to education in which male and female students are separated in different classes, buildings or even schools. This was a predominant practice before the mid-20th century but remains popular in some parts of the world based on tradition and religion. The concept is in contrast to the method of mixed-sex education, or coeducation.
In the United States, the concept of single-sex education has been being revived as an alternative method of teaching that could improve the achievements of students. This method has both supporters and opponents citing different advantages and disadvantages of having separate classes or schools for girls and boys. Opponents regard it as being the state-endorsed segregation of students. Separating students by gender is a also considered a threat to the freedom and independence achieved by women during the 20th century.
According to opponents of the practice, men who have attended single-sex classes may find it difficult to acknowledge talented women as equals as they have not had contact with such women in school. On the other hand, girls that have grown up in a single-sex environment are considered to be more apt to follow stereotypical gender roles than girls from mixed-sex schools. Opponents often argue that the gender-separate model tends to generalize stating that there is a clear difference in the ways girls and boys learn. Another problem relating to the introduction of single-sex classes is the concern that there could be limited resources or opportunities for female students.
The National Association for Single-Sex Public Education (NASSPE), which was established in 2002, is a sign of the revival of the concept of single-gender education in the United States. In October 2006, the US Department of Education published new regulations allowing coeducational public schools to offer single-sex classes if they fulfill three conditions. The schools have to explain the reason for having a single-gender class in that subject; provide a mixed-sex class in the same subject at the same school or at another, geographically accessible school; and every two years the schools have to conduct a review to determine whether single-sex classes are still necessary. As single-sex schools are exempted from two of the three requirements, namely the first and third, the new regulations appear to encourage the creation of all-girl or all-boy schools rather than simply having single-sex classes within coeducational schools.
Proponents of single-sex education argue that the brains of girls and boys develop differently, which is one of the reasons why they learn in different ways. However, as the NASSPE suggests this does not imply that all girls learn one way and all boys learn another way. Supporters of the method understand the variations among girls and among boys and try to encourage this diversity by offering unique educational opportunities for both sexes.
According to NASSPE and other proponents, single-gender education can boost achievements both among girls and boys. However, it is important to note that this does not happen automatically as the single-sex model requires adequate preparation. It is not enough to put girls in one room and boys in another. The most important thing is to understand the subtleties of gender differences in learning and to use special teaching methods suitable for this kind of education.
The single-sex format is also regarded as a way to break down gender stereotypes and decrease classroom discrimination as it gives both girls and boys more freedom to explore their interests and abilities regardless of their gender. It is considered that coeducational settings often reinforce gender stereotypes via the so-called gender intensification, an exaggerated preference for all things that are generally seen as suitable for boys or girls. For example, many believe that poetry is better suited to girls and science is more suited to boys.
According NASSPE, with the help of specially trained teachers, girls who attend single-sex schools are more likely to participate in competitive sports and to study computer science and technology than girls at coeducational schools. On the other hand, boys in single-gender classrooms feel greater freedom to pursue interests in art, music, drama and foreign languages. In addition, the gender-separate format is considered to give parents more choices when it comes to deciding which educational system would work best for their children.