Home   |  Issues  |  The Daily Star Home | Thursday, July 19, 2007

By Reggie

It's a news guaranteed to raise a few eyebrows. More and more US schools are experimenting with an idea which is not so novel in nature but certainly surprising in timing- Single Sex Education.

Who would have thought that the US of all places would be the country where this concept would be tried again? After all the women's rights movement originated here and the feminist presence is still rather overwhelming, which logically implies that no one would expect an idea which seeks to separate boys and girls, both institutionally and mentally would exist. Yet still, the idea is gaining growing prominence. Several schools which have experimented it received encouraging results. In Canada a school has climbed up in ranking almost 100 places after it switched from co-ed education to single sex education. In the US several prominent private schools have tried experimenting with single sex education and have received very promising results.

The advantages of single sex education are fairly obvious. Several studies show that boys are more inclined to specific skill sets than girls. For example in the study of history boys are more inclined to be interested in conflict while girls may be more interested in culture. Creating a curriculum based on this gender preference tends to lead to superior academic performance.

Single-sex education system also tends to encourage students to be more focused on their studies. If there are no girls, then guys wouldn't spend that extra time trying to impress girls or keeping up with the fashion trends. They would tend to spend the time studying, advancing their musical skills, being involved in athletics or engage in other activities. The same argument applies for girls.

However opponents of single-sex education claim that a single sex environment is inherently unrealistic and doesn't mimic the environment which students have to face in real life. Single sex education also tends to reinforce gender stereotypes and ideally the world would be a better place if we stop branding specific weaknesses and strengths to each gender and pass similar judgment on everyone we meet. Clearly no one is sure how to go about things.

However it is an interesting idea to mull over. Would single sex education be advantageous for Bangladesh? In Bangladesh single sex education is more common than in the US, given our culture. Several prominent Bengali medium schools are single sex and curiously their results are far superior to other schools.

It is no secret that Notre Dame College (NDC) and Viquranessa College continues to set the standards with excellent HSC and SSC results year after year. Cadet Colleges which are boys only tend to have an A grade rate as high as 90%. Single sex schools in general seem to be far outperforming co-ed schools. Does that mean single-sex education is the way forward for Bangladesh? However one should remember that these schools are also historically really good. They happen to be very selective and chose the best students among the lot. Their educational system also happens to be far superior and they groom their students accordingly. To say that NDC and Viqurenessa are great colleges because they are single sex would be both insulting to them and stupid claims to make. There is little doubt that if we put the same student in a co-ed setting they would be able to perform really well as well. There is also little doubt that if we implement the same policies in other schools as well they might show similar encouraging results.

Our country is rigged by gender violence and women oppression.

Promoting single sex education here isn't a great idea. The logic isn't the fact that single sex education mimics unrealistic conditions or lead to problems in the work-place because there are plenty of examples of students who have been bred through the single sex system striving in their work place and in higher education. The logic is that co-ed education in Bangladesh will lead to bridging the gender gap present in our culture. It's about time ordinary Bengalis take a woman as a human being equal to a man. It is about time that men stop staring at a woman driver or gaping at a couple walking down the road. It's about time that a group of guys and girls hanging out together stop becoming a spectacle to be stared at by random people in the streets. An universal co-ed education system which gives a girl the same set of opportunities as a guy and where interactions between the two genders breeds tolerance and respect would greatly help Bangladesh in the long run than the small advantages of single sex education like enabling students to be more focused. A good serious student would be serious in any type of educational setting.



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