Pros and Cons of Single-sex Schools

The issue of co-educational versus single sex education continues to be heavily debated by psychologists, scientists, journalists and graduates sharing their own experiences. While some believe single-sex schools provide better opportunities for learning in an atmosphere devoid of gender-based distractions, some others are of the view that co-education provides a near-reality setting for learning to be natural with post-school advantages.

Parents who choose single-sex schools do so for many reasons, but a major one is the belief that “boys and girls learn differently.” Single-sex schools also claim to better tailor instruction to one or the other gender.

But brain and behavioral research does not support such beliefs. Lise Eliot, Associate Professor of Neuroscience, Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science,did a study on gender development in the brain, and found no difference in the way boys and girls process information, learn, remember, read or do math. Similarly, in-depth analysis of educational outcomes by Janet Hyde and colleagues at the University of Wisconsin has found scant evidence that single-sex schooling leads to better academic achievement (

On the other hand, research suggests that single-sex schooling may actually be harmful to children – by failing to prepare them for gender-integrated workplaces, shared leadership and equal partnership in families.

Well, read this piece on pros and cons of single-sex education to have an informed view on this issue.

Pros and cons of single-sex education

Single-gender colleges are rare and getting rarer. Over the years, people questioned the exclusivity and relevance of single-gender colleges. Today while there are about 40 all-female colleges, there are only four all-male colleges. On co-ed campuses, there is a predominance of women—71% of women enroll in college right after high school compared with 61% men.

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Pros and cons of single-sex education

It’s a complicated pro and con debate. “Opponents claim single-sex education perpetuates traditional gender roles and ‘legitimizes institutional sexism,’ while neuroscientists refute the merits of gender differences between girl and boy brains,” wrote Melinda D. Anderson in “The Resurgence of Single-Sex Education,” in The Atlantic December 22, 2015. But the advocates have solid points as well.

Pros—less distraction, less opportunity for gender stereotypes in education, less competition between genders, more tailored instruction, boys can pursue “feminine” studies like poetry without being harassed by other boys, and studies show that girls do better in math and science in an all-girl environment.

Cons—inability for students to learn how to work with the other gender (necessary for jobs and society in general), lack of evidence that single-sex education is better for students academically, some teachers are not trained in gender-specific educational techniques, not all boys and not all girls learn the same way, race and socioeconomic conditions are more of a factor than gender in academic disparities, and studies have shown that the higher percentage of girls in a mixed-gender classroom, the better all the students did.

Men and women learn differently

Recent research shows that boys are falling behind girls in primary and high school education. The same can be said for college, where men have trouble asking for help and feel more comfortable getting support from other men. Advocates of single-sex education propose that men can focus better in an all-male environment, learn what it means to be a man, bond with and learn respect for other men, and learn healthy attitudes about competition and cooperation.

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In “The Final Four,” by Peter Applebome, posted April 3, 2006, in New York Times, Walter E. Massey, president of Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA, a historically black school, said: “We’ve learned that there are differences in the ways that boys and girls learn and there can be some advantages in having boys and girls in separate learning environments. It may not be for everyone, but for a large segment of the population, a single-sex environment can be more productive and more fulfilling.”

All-female Sweet Briar College saved

The 114-year-old, all-women Sweet Briar College in Virginia planned to close in 2015 due to financial issues, declining enrollment and a changing landscape in higher education. But alumnae passionate about the school’s legacy saved it. To survive today, some single-gender colleges are choosing to diversify to stay in business by offering peripheral classes open to men and additional activities to bring in revenue.

In “Are Women’s Colleges Doomed? What Sweet Briar’s Demise Tells Us,” by Jasmine Garsd on National Public Radio, March 26, 2015, Marilyn Hammond, interim president of the Women’s College Coalition, said that “Many young women today don’t even consider an all-female institution.” But she also said women’s colleges often offer a safe, welcoming environment for a wide range of students, and that they often claim more racial and socio-economic diversity than their coed counterparts.


The Author

Chinenye Nwabueze

Nwabueze is a communication researcher with several years of lecturing experience in Nigerian universities.

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