When it comes to choosing the best learning environment for your child, a single-gender school may be tempting. Schools that only admit a single gender assert that students in those environments express themselves more freely without the pressure or influence of the opposite sex. However, co-educational schools maintain that the co-ed experience is the natural choice, one that reflects real-world communities and workplaces in which students will live and work … that the co-ed experience better prepares them to interact with a diverse mix of people.
So how beneficial is it to separate the sexes? The short answer: it isn’t.
Findings published by the American Psychological Association show that single-gender education does not teach girls and boys any better than co-ed schools. The analysis, published in 2014, included nearly 200 studies and approximately 1.6 million students globally. The National Science Foundation funded the analysis, which included studies of K-12 schools spanning six decades.
Some schools caught on early. Founded in 1926 as a private all-girls’ school, Lausanne Collegiate School‘s leadership realized how much children could gain early in life by attending a co-educational primary and secondary school, and in 1981, Lausanne re-established itself as a co-ed learning institution.
“Children growing up in collaborative co-educational settings gain confidence in who they are and are better able to focus on their academics and activities,” says Laura Trott, Director of Admissions at Lausanne. “Rather than waiting to learn how to interact with peers later on in life, they instead find themselves prepared to communicate and actively participate in any community they join.”
That’s an especially important point, given today’s increasingly global workforce. Inclusive schools create environments of understanding, mutual respect, varying perspectives, and equal leadership opportunities among genders, elements that are valued in most workplaces. “There is a mountain of research in social psychology showing that segregation by race or gender feeds stereotypes,” says Janet Hyde, a professor of psychology at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. “That’s not what we want.”
Children in co-educational learning environments are encouraged and enabled to build relationships with opposite-sex peers from an early age without pre-conceived notions of how a girl or a boy “should” act. If a boy has a question about a girl, for instance, he has the opportunity to ask her directly at a co-ed school, rather than believing another peer or even creating his or her own assumptions.
Still some parents might think that their child will be able to focus better, and therefore achieve greater academic success, without the distraction of the other gender. But, Laura says, every child is different, with a unique learning style. “Regardless of gender, all students have different personalities and all students have different learning styles and interests.”
Gender also does not pre-define how a child will learn or what he or she will find interesting, she adds. Co-ed teachers focus on the individual child, working to channel his or her own interests and support unique learning styles.
At Lausanne, Laura says that empathy developed through students’ conversations in classrooms, and by their participation in a wide variety of activities, are a few observations of note. “You’ll find chorus members who play three sports and tutor senior kindergarteners, a volleyball player who participates in robotics competitions and musicals, Model U.N. competitors excelling in higher-level physics and welding,” she says. “The combinations of interests and activities that boys and girls enjoy at Lausanne is endless.”
And, she adds, because students have had the opportunities to build their confidence through classroom and activity experiences, they’re developing their own paths, which finds them attending a wide variety of colleges and universities across the United States and abroad.
Of course a parent must consider the needs of his or her own child and then determine the most appropriate environment. “Families need to think through what is most important to them in the development of their children’s skills and attributes,” says Laura, “as well as their preparedness for the next grade level, for college, and for life.”
This article is sponsored by Lausanne Collegiate School.