I've long been a fan of single-sex education for girls. My nine-year-old has enjoyed nearly five years at an all-girl school so I welcomed the findings reported in the article All-girl schools show edge. It supported my suspicion that girls educated alongside other girls flourish.
"International research has shown that women who went to all-girl schools are more competitive than their counterparts." Further, "[w]omen who attended single-sex schools are less likely to be victims of New Zealand's growing gender pay gap."
It listed successful local women who attended all-girl schools: Helen Clark, Theresa Gattung, Annette Presley, Ann Sherry, Jenny Shipley, Hekia Parata, Maryan Street, Jo Goodhew, Anna Paquin and Samantha Harrison.
The theory goes that counterproductive gender biases are eliminated at an all-girl school. There's no pressure to study supposedly feminine subjects. All temptation to hide your intelligence in front of the class hunk is removed. At an all-girl school a female will be head of the debating team, captain of the cricket team, top of maths, winner of the science cup - and even Romeo in the school play. There are no preconceived roles to adopt on the basis of gender.
When boys and girls mature mentally and physically at different rates it makes no sense to mindlessly apply a one-size-fits-all education system. It's said that boys like firm direction while girls prefer working in groups and that boys with ready replies can drown out girls who prefer to contemplate before responding.
Some argue that single-sex schools represent a slippery slope to other types of niche schooling, that splitting up genders could lead to segregating pupils on the basis of religion or race. Just think, if we're not careful there could even be Catholic schools or Maori schools. Gosh, that is a worry.
The argument that all-girl schools give students a false impression of how the wider co-ed world operates doesn't cut it either. I don't see anything wrong with shielding girls and young women in their formative years from the sexism, stereotypical expectations, pigeonholing and general misogyny they'll eventually face in co-ed tertiary institutions and workplaces. Most of them will find out about pay gaps and glass ceilings soon enough.
On a micro-level I witnessed the benefit of an all-girl environment at hockey games every Saturday this winter when our girls invariably played against a mixed gender team. At first the opposition, always strategically weighted with boys, would look daunting but it quickly became apparent that the mixed gender teams were at a disadvantage on two levels.
Firstly, their team members just weren't mentally attuned to each other. Our girls seemed to intuitively understand one another and played a more interconnected and collaborative game. Secondly, the boys in the opposition seemed to play amongst themselves, seldom letting their female teammates in on the action. With that mindset they were effectively operating with fewer team members than our team whose players were receptive to all members.
At last count my daughter's team's record for the season consisted of ten wins, two draws and two losses. I think they had an advantage in being one of the few all-girl teams in their draw. And if I managed to identify the marked dissonance between the genders - as well as the habit of the boys to close ranks and lock their female teammates out of the game - in just forty minutes on the hockey turf, just think how such tendencies would be amplified for extended periods in the classroom.
What's your view on an all-girl education and single-sex schools in general? Are you an advocate - or is a co-ed education preferable?