THE debate over whether girls and boys learn better together or apart goes on and there is evidence to support both arguments. However, recent studies show that academic performance in single sex schools is better than in coeducational (mixed) schools.
Analysis of the Uganda National Examination Board (UNEB) results over the years seem to corroborate this fact.
In the 2005 Oâ€™ Level examinations, while girls made up 45.1% of the 169,522 candidates who did the examinations, they accounted for less than 20% (93) of the top 560 candidates ranked by district. The majority of the girls that excelled came from single sex schools like Mt. St. Maryâ€™s College Namagunga, Nabisunsa, Iganga SS, Immaculate Heart â€“ Rukungiri, Bweranyangi, Wanyange, Mary Hill and Tororo Girls. In districts with many mixed schools, boys tended to dominate the show.
While there is no adverse difference in performance of both sexes at primary levels, studies have shown that academic achievement in single-sex secondary schools tends to be better than in coeducational.
Studies by the Cambridge University as well as by Graham Able of Dulwich College â€“â€“ all in the UK, found that while both girls and boys did better in single-sex schools than they did in coeducational schools, the single-sex advantage was greater for the boys than for the girls.
Several psychologists including Judith Kilpatrick of the UK say girls do better in traditionally â€˜maleâ€™ subjects like sciences and maths when they are away from the influence of boys, while the boys will do better at â€˜femaleâ€™ subjects, like English, when they are away from girls. She said for girls who lack confidence, the more secure environment of a single sex school is helpful. An analysis of the UNEB examinations indicates that girls in single-sex schools perform better in sciences than the boys.
In the 2003 Oâ€™ level examinations for instance, Nsambya Girls and Gayaza High topped Kampala while Mt. St. Maryâ€™s College Namagunga swept Mukono district. Namagunga, a girlsâ€™ school for instance, has always dominated Mukono against Namilyango College, a powerful boys school in the district. In the 2003 Aâ€™ level examinations, all the top science candidates came from Namagunga.
James Amatre, a senior teacher at Nabisunsa Girls and David Eryatu of Wanyange Girls, agree that single-sex boarding schools perform better because they provide an environment for total concentration on academics, high discipline and less distraction from the opposite sex.
Eryatu says in a mixed school, the effect of puberty is worse on the girl-child. â€œThis is a delicate period because there is a tendency for girls to focus more on things that attract the opposite sex, making them lose concentration on academic matters. This is avoided in a single sex school,â€ argues Eryatu.
Studies by MargrÃ©t PÃ¡la Ã“lafsdÃ³ttir and others, demonstrate that single-sex education benefits the boys even more.
â€œAt co-ed schools, many boys will tell you that only geeks study hard. In single-sex schools, it is cool to study, even for jocks,â€ she says in information posted on the internet.
Studies by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), says girls perform poorly in sciences in mixed schools because the subjects are traditionally taught by men.
â€œBut girls performed just as well in these same subjects if taught by women or in an all-female environment,â€ Deborah Eade says in a paper, Development With Women.
Eade says in an all-female environment, girls are not forced into competing with boys on male terms (i.e. becoming a surrogate male) or being a negative reference-group for boys (i.e. assuming a â€˜typicalâ€™ feminine role).
So, why doesnâ€™t government promote single-sex schools?
John Agaba, the acting commissioner for secondary education, says government policy is to promote coeducation because of its social benefits. Of the 844 Government secondary schools, 65 are for girls only and mainly church-founded; 28 are for boys only while 751 are mixed.
Agaba argues that with good administration, coeducational schools produce better citizens.
â€œTheir students come out balanced. Bad practices like homosexuality and lesbianism are eliminated.
The practice is at times found in single-sex schools because when they want to explore the opposite sex, there is nothing,â€ Agaba says.
Mixed schools are also believed to give a better all-round education to boys and girls. It is believed that if children have always been in a mixed education, they will have got used to learning together and mixing socially and will not be distracted.
Being in a mixed school means they will have the opportunity of trying out subjects that might not be available in a single-sex school, for example, home economics, dance and textiles for boys and design technology and football for girls.â€™
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Are single-sex schools better academically?