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Single sex or co-ed schools, whats best for your child?

Kids in the classroom

Read the latest research on how to make the best school choice for your kids.

Planning for big school

Even if you haven’t started filling in the forms yet, one of the biggest decisions you will be making for your child is which primary school they’ll go to. One of the key choices you will be faced with is: Single sex or co-ed schools?

Many parents make this decision based on their own school experiences. It might be helpful for us to understand why we feel the way we do about school options, as well as what current research is telling us.

Boys will be boys

“At the age of six or seven, when children start serious schooling, boys are six to 12 months less developed mentally than girls,” says Steve Bidulph in Raising Boys. Boys may become aware of this difference when there is a more advanced girl at the next desk, and this can have a detrimental effect on his confidence.

The primary school classroom is predominantly language based, and girls are, on average, stronger than boys in language. Boys start slower in the areas of reading and writing.

Not only are boys on their own schedule when it comes to fine-motor co-ordination (holding a pen and using scissors), they are often still in the stage of gross-motor development when they start school. This means they are literally itching to run and jump and play, so they will not be good at sitting still.

Eventually boys catch up with their same-age female playmates, but their confidence can be dented if they are compared in the classroom early on. Boys who are not ready for sitting still can feel themselves a failure, and get turned off from learning if the environment is not right.

Girls gain confidence

Some studies suggest girls in girls-only classes are more interactive and comfortable and more likely to feel connected and help each other, and be more accepting of each other’s points of view. They are also more likely to feel freer to thrive in subjects that boys tend to dominate in a mixed class, such as maths and sciences. Girls feel less pressure to conform to stereotype, especially in academic or sporting choices.

Girls are also more willing to take risks, and have increased competence. But, “The most common and immediate effect of single-gender experiences, is confidence,” says Professor JoAnn Deak, educator and psychologist, in How Girls Thrive.

High self-esteem is the best protection you can give girls. A high self-esteem means you consider yourself important and valuable, regardless of your appearance, ability or performance. If you feel you are important, you speak up for yourself and defend your rights and your body, says Gisela Preuschoff, author of Raising Girls.

School and teacher capabilities

Overall, research does not support one school environment over the other. There is evidence that both options benefit children. It is, however, easier for teachers to teach a gender-based classroom, says independent educator Gavin Keller in his presentation Pink Brain Blue Brain.

It’s clear that “Boys and girls need different activities and teaching styles in order to embed learning. The highly competent and energised educator can meet both needs. The majority of teachers who educate in difficult environments with great demands simply do not have the energy to make it happen day after day,” he says.

In South Africa, where 75% of teachers are female, lack of understanding of the male brain and male brain processing often prevents boys from feeling successful at school. Gender-based classrooms set boundaries and procedures to equip teachers to cope effectively and create a classroom culture of success and caring, says Keller.

You know your own child and his or her nature, and this will be a useful guiding principle in getting a feel for which environment best suits. There is no ‘the best school’ – only a best school for your child, based on his personality, aptitudes and needs.

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