Which is better: Co-ed schools or all-boys/girls' schools?

PHOTO: The Straits Times

Views differ regarding the pros and cons of single-sex education. For some parents, the prospect of a single-sex school is unnatural - if boys and girls play together, why shouldn't they study together?

These parents also claim that respect for the opposite gender develops quicker and stronger when boys and girls learn together.

In contrast, other parents claim that girls and boys distract each other when sharing the same classroom; boys are more likely to show off, in the hope of impressing the girls.

These parents also maintain that boys also tend to dominate in science and technical subjects - pushing girls to the sidelines - and take a backseat role in subjects such as art and literature for fear of being ridiculed as "soft" by their peers.

Objective evidence from psychological research into the advantages and disadvantages does not reveal a clear picture.

For instance, studies have shown that boys tend to make higher educational attainments in all-boys schools than in mixed-gender schools.

However, critics of this research point out many single-sex schools for boys in the countries surveyed are privately run, with smaller classes, and the boys have been specially selected on the basis of high ability.

It is hardly surprising then, that their attainments are better in that learning environment.

Weighing the differences

Some of these are the claimed advantages of single-sex schools:

Girls are keener on non-traditional subjects: Outside the scrutiny of boys, girls are often more willing to try new alternatives in learning.

Girls see other girls in a wider range of roles: For instance, the president of the student council is a girl, as is the pupil who wins the most sporting medals.

Girls work better together: Girls like working in small groups, and are nearly always more productive than in mixed-gender groups.

Boys are less likely to misbehave and do not waste time trying to catch the attention of girls.

Boys are more likely to try subjects which are often associated with girls, such as art appreciation, music and foreign languages.

Boys are more likely to value school activities and educational attainments; they do not make fun of high-achieving pupils.

Making your choice

Research evidence increasingly suggests that overall attainments in single-sex schools exceed those in mixed-gender schools.

Remember, though, that these are general findings, and cannot guarantee that either a mixed-gender school or single-sex school will suit your own child in particular.

Think about your child's personality, his strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes. You will have a clearer idea of his learning needs.

You will also see how he - or she - relates to the opposite sex. Use that knowledge to help you decide.

This article was first published in Young Parents.