Is there a difference between single sex and co-educational school environments? There is a lot of research to support both sides of the argument and it has been a topic of debate for generations.
Gender issues in schools and society have been the subject of much research and discussion in recent years. ACER (2002) Research paper, suggests in the past two decades there have been a number of initiatives and changes that have occurred. Girls have been encouraged to participate more in subjects regarded as non-traditional for them, such as high level Mathematics courses, Physical Sciences and Information Technology. For a period of time, boys have been encouraged to study subjects such as Literature, the Arts and Languages other than English. Research suggests that these traditions and social constructs are difficult to break down.
There have been many other changes in education while these initiatives were taking place. In many subjects undertaken at school, there has been a move towards pedagogy that have a much stronger focus on ‘everyday’ issues and social implications. This is true, not only of the humanities subjects but also in Mathematics and Sciences.
There is a body of evidence supporting the notion that boys are experiencing difficulty in adjusting to these challenges that they face in school and, later, in society. It appears that the major area of potential difficulty at school for boys is around literacy. Achievement results in primary and secondary education suggest that there are significant gender differences, especially in the area of reading where girls outperform boys at both levels.
International studies show that, although some of these patterns are widespread throughout the world, the degree of engagement that Australian boys have with reading, is less, on average, than students overseas. It has been shown that this has an effect on the level of reading proficiency that they can obtain. An attempt to overcome the difficulties faced by some boys can be undertaken with the assistance of teachers, schools and parents. Many schools are undertaking programmes which include the provision of appropriate stimulating reading material to try to engage boys in reading. At St Edmund’s College the Drop Everything and Read program is an example of such an initiative aimed to encourage boys to read more and improve their literacy.
A boy’s only schooling offers many educational advantages. The school can focus on offering an engaging curriculum, specifically developed and tailored for the ways boys think and learn. This then helps boys to build their confidence and pride in their abilities, and to thrive academically & spiritually.
As a Christian Brothers College in the Edmund Rice Tradition, we aim to provide an educational foundation for boys to live out the values of Faith, Excellence, Community and Compassion. Learning can be differentiated and individualised to allow each boy the best opportunity to achieve their ultimate potential. In an all-boys environment, boys are free to be themselves without the fear of embarrassment if they make a mistake. They can take safe risks in a supportive and caring environment. It is important to recognise that a single gender environment can allow boys to learn and grow at their own pace without fear. Social distractions and pressures are reduced, allowing boys to learn and discover new things on a deeper level. We know through our research, professional development and experience that as boys reach adolescence, they are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviour’s and much has been addressed in and out of the classrooms concerning these types of behaviours. With St Edmunds College long tradition of boys only education provides the experience and knowledge to enable our boys to achieve their best as they navigate into manhood and further into life, whatever that may look like in Canberra, or the world beyond.
St Edmunds College curriculum is specifically tailored to suit boys with a broad range of academic choices, including performing arts and a wide ranging co-curricular program. Understanding that boys learn differently, the college conducts lessons, implements leading teaching practices and has a diverse and robust program that best suits their needs of this current technological age. In an all-boys environment, boys are free to pursue interests in music, creative and performing arts without the preconceived notions of masculinity and femininity. Being able to explore all learning opportunities is foundational to a well-rounded person.
While gender composition of a school may be vital for some, I believe it can distract from the deeper consideration and declaration of the heart of good teaching, learning and education. If the structure of either co-educational or single sex schools was the defining factor of what makes the difference, then it would be a debate very worth having.
From my experience as a teacher and pastoral leader, there are more central elements to consider and ensure that are embedded within a school language, culture and practice. For me, what matters most is not whether a school contains co-educational or single sex students, but how we put into practice what best, supports, engages, inspires and empowers the individual, the group, the college, the home and the world around us.
Tim MacArthur (Head of Rice House)