Single sex or co-ed? This is a question all parents have to ask themselves at some stage, and although it’s not an easy decision to make – your choice should ultimately be based on your child’s individual needs, writes Katrine Anker-Nilssen
Single sex schools are still very relevant in South Africa. For many boys and girls, these environments provide advantageous academic, social and emotional conditions. “Educational and neurological research shows us that boys and girls often learn differently. This allows single sex schools to cater to these specific styles of learning,” says psychologist Paul Bushell. “Single sex schools can also eliminate some of the social pressures that boys and girls often place on each other during the various stages of learning – this can have a positive impact on self-esteem and self-confidence development.”
There are clear differences in the emotional maturation and development of most boys and girls. “Single sex schools can capitalise on a specific knowledge of one sex, and avoid the competitive and confused dynamic which can arise between girls and boys struggling with different things in the same space,” says Paul.
However, it is very important that we understand and take the specific needs of individual children and the characteristics of individual schools into account when choosing where to send our children. “Some children thrive in mixed environments, where they can have social and emotional opportunities with both boys and girls. Some children make better friends with the opposite sex, and experiences in single sex schools can be lonely and damaging to their self-esteem and socio-emotional development,” explains Paul. This kind of diversity can also promote ideas of gender equality and result in better communication skills with the opposite sex. “This is often seen as better preparation of the ‘real world’, where children will have to have personal and professional interactions with the opposite sex.”
“Going to a single sex or a co-ed school is a personal choice and various factors should be considered when making this choice,” says educational psychologist Nicola Buhr. Questions you should be asking are: Does the school’s ethos align with yours? What opportunities does the school offer your child? What about cost and distance from home? Does the school offer remediation? “Every child is unique and deserves an education that is suitable to their individual needs,” says Nicola.
“When it comes to educational attainment, it is not necessarily dependent on the school’s model. Children who are intellectually inclined will perform better regardless of school model, and vice versa for children who struggle. Children also benefit from being taught different learning styles and the view that children should be taught differently does not necessarily apply,” says Nicola.
There is little scientific evidence to suggest that the school model will change academic outcome, so placing a child, for this reason, is not going to benefit your child. This also extends to social benefits. “Some children flourish is single sex schools and others flourish in co-ed schools. Having a choice is a good thing, and no one school suits all children. Make the decision based on your child’s individual needs and talents or weaknesses. In our current modern society, we benefit from choice and diversity,” says Nicola.
Research and visit the schools you have shortlisted before you make an informed decision to best suit you and your child. At the end of the day, perhaps the most important thing is not whether you enrol your child in a co-ed or a single sex school, but rather to make sure the school you choose is a good one with dedicated and experienced teachers – as well as great management.
Paul Bushell: 073 200 7219, firstname.lastname@example.org
Nicola Buhr: 082 854 6902, email@example.com
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF SINGLE SEX AND CO-ED SCHOOLS?
HIGHBURY PREPARATORY SCHOOL:
“It is our core business and intentional choice to focus on the intellectual, physical, social, and emotional lives of boys. Because we don’t have to plan curriculum, lessons and events to include both boys and girls, we can focus 100% on boys’ needs and activities exclusively – which results in the boys being fully engaged in their learning every minute of the day. Without the influence of girls at school, our boys are encouraged to step out of their comfort zone, without stereotypes, to explore their full potential. Our boys participate whole-heartedly in reading poetry, singing in the choir and learning musical instruments.”
– Belinda Willows, Head of Foundation Phase
ST MARY’S DSG:
“The biggest advantage of a girls only school is the productivity and high level of engagement that exists in the classroom. A single sex classroom and playground is a simpler system in terms of discipline and relationship management. The girls are more aware of who they are as individuals and, as a result, they are more focused and make healthier choices. Monastic schools usually partner with schools of the opposite gender in order to provide a platform for discussion, debate and collaboration. There are no magic formulas and each child needs to be considered for what will suit him or her best. The environment in which they learn needs to be free from prejudice and allow for the individual to feel safe, supported and stimulated to pursue what matters most to them. In my opinion it is easier to achieve this in a single sex environment.
– Jonathan Manley, Executive Principal
REDDAM HOUSE UMHLANGA:
“We believe that co-education best reflects society and contemporary trends, and that co-ed schools are best equipped to produce confident, socially well-adjusted young adults. As a result we aim to encourage an atmosphere of mutual respect for the opposite gender. Boys and girls learn to work together and accept each other as equal partners in school and in life. However, in teaching both genders we have to be mindful that girls and boys are not the same. Our teachers’ task is to understand these differences and design our learning programmes to be mindful of these differences, but not limit boys or girls to what they generally speaking can or can’t achieve.”
– Adam Rogers, College Headmaster
DURBAN GIRLS’ COLLEGE:
“Extensive research suggests that academic performance is better in single sex schools, especially at high school level where girls and boys can engage in curriculum delivered and designed for specific purpose. Levels of engagement are not threatened within the whole social and self-consciousness psyche of teens. Activities, speakers, enrichment and excursions are customised to meet the needs of girls or boys, and so there is often a sharper focus. The advantage of co-ed is the ‘real-worldness’ of it. Work environments are co-ed, and post-school university experience may be easier to adapt to.”
– Heather Goedeke, Head of High School