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Gender and Education

Boys and Girls Have Different Needs

By Father John Flynn

ROME, JAN. 19, 2007 (Zenit) - Advocates of separate education for boys and girls received support from a report published recently in England. In December, Ofsted, the government's inspectorate for children and learners in England, published a report titled, "2020 Vision." The document looked ahead to see what personalized teaching and learning might look like in schools 20 years into the new millennium.

The report supported the idea that boys should be taught separately to stop them falling further behind girls, reported the London-based Telegraph on Jan. 4.

The report itself contained a section commenting on the "gender gap" in the educational performance of boys and girls. This difference in performance has been shown to exist in many countries. A study published by the Program for International Student Assessment in 2000 showed that girls performed significantly better than boys on the reading test in all but one country. Mathematics also showed a gender gap -- in favor of boys -- although this was much smaller.

The reasons for the gap are complex, the Ofsted report observed. Research shows that even from a very early age boys place a greater value on believing themselves to be better at mathematics and science, and girls at reading and art. The differences in performance, however, can be countered by teaching methods that are specifically designed to help boys overcome their difficulties.

Moulsham High, for example, in Chelmsford, a town in southeast England, has been separating boys and girls in the first few years of school since the 1970s. And it has resulted in success for both boys and girls, reported the Telegraph in a separate article Jan. 4, as part of a series on single-sex schools.

"You only need to look at an 11-year-old boy to see that he is radically different to a girl of the same age and deserves to be treated so," Chris Nicholls, the head teacher, commented to the Telegraph.

Moulsham divides the sexes when pupils join the school at 11. Once they reach 14, they are mixed for some lessons, but for math, English and science, single-sex lessons are maintained.

Developing talents

Chelmsford County High School for Girls is a school with consistent success in single-sex education, reported the Telegraph on Jan. 11.

The school for girls aged 11-18, located in Essex county, outperformed every other school in England, according to results published last summer.

Glynis Howland, the school's acting head, told the newspaper that single-sex education was vital to girls to give them the best chance to develop.

Her argument about development was supported by an earlier report showing that it's not only a question of test results. Girls who attended single-sex schools go on to earn more in the world of work than those in mixed education, although they do no better in exams, reported the London-based Times newspaper Sept. 22.

Researchers at the Institute of Education's Center for Longitudinal Studies studied 13,000 people born in 1958. They found that by the age 16, girls educated in single-sex schools were more likely to study subjects that they enjoyed and were good at, rather than allowing gender stereotypes to influence their choice of subject.

This pattern continued at university and work, thus enabling the young women from girls' schools to enter areas of employment typically dominated by men, and in which salaries tended to be higher.

"Single-sex schools seemed more likely to encourage students to pursue academic paths according to their talents rather than their gender, whereas more gender-stereotyped choices were made in coeducational schools," said Alice Sullivan, co-author of the report.

Limits eased in U.S.

Positive results from separate education spurred changes in federal laws in the United States late last year. The Department of Education issued rules, taking effect Nov. 24, giving government schools more freedom to separate boys from girls in the classroom, the Associated Press reported Oct. 24.

"Some students may learn better in single-sex education environments," said Education Secretary Margaret Spellings. "These final regulations permit communities to establish single-sex schools and classes as another means of meeting the needs of students."

Previously, under rules in force since 1975, single-sex classes were only allowed in limited cases, such as sex education courses or gym classes. Now schools are able to offer separate classes if they believe it will offer educational benefits. Enrollment in a single-sex class will be voluntary.

The changes will also make it easier to institute single-sex schools, as long as local authorities can demonstrate that it also provides coed schools with "substantially equal" benefits to the excluded sex.

Following the changes in regulations, a number of press reports highlighted the growing support for giving parents the option of choosing separate education for boys and girls.

Campbell Hall, a private North Hollywood mixed school, began eight years ago to separate the boys from the girls in seventh- and eighth-grade math, and it has worked so well that they are now doing the same with science, the Los Angeles Times reported Nov. 20.

The article observed that research has long suggested that girls in coed settings defer to boys and receive less attention from teachers. The idea of separating the sexes is, however, strongly criticized by some groups, such as the the American Association of University Women and the American Civil Liberties Union, the Los Angeles Times noted.

The results at Campbell Hall have, nevertheless, been positive. After separating the sexes for math, girls are taking more advanced math courses in high school and are participating more in class.

On the East Coast, the Smith Leadership Academy in Dorchester, Massachusetts, is a charter school for about 200 sixth- through eighth-graders, and is the only public school in that state known to teach male and female students separately, reported the Boston Globe on Nov. 27.

Formerly run as a Catholic school, it has had separate classes for boys and girls since it opened as a charter school three years ago.

In DeLand, Florida, the Woodward Avenue Elementary School is another single-sex education success story, said a Nov. 18 editorial in the Chicago Tribune.

Faced with lower test results by boys, the school three years ago gave parents the choice of enrolling their youngsters in single-gender classrooms. Test results from the first year of the experiment showed significant gains for pupils in the single-sex classes, the Chicago Tribune noted.

Supporting the recent changes in federal rules, the editorial argued: "The key here is choice." Not all children are the same, but by making available the option of separate education for boys and girls parents are able to choose the method that works best for their child.

Another experiment in separate education, this time in Canada, has also shown positive results. Glenmerry Elementary School has improved test results after separating the sexes, reported the Vancouver Sun on Nov. 16.

After having separated the boys from the girls, the seventh graders have achieved scores that are now at an all-time high, even higher than the average scores in the region and the province. Moreover, the results have improved for both boys and girls.

Lorraine Garnett Ward, in an opinion article published by the Boston Globe on Oct. 30, said that what must we do to ensure that both boys and girls grow to their full moral and intellectual potential.

An English teacher currently on leave, she argued that single-sex schools and classes allow young people to free themselves from the burden of learning differences between the sexes, and gives them the opportunity to develop their potential. An argument that is increasingly gaining force.

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Gender, Education, Boys, Girls, Flynn

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