When I had two daughters, I never dreamed I would someday choose single-sex education for them. Like most parents, when our daughters reached school age, we signed them up to attend the local public school. They joined their classes of little boys and girls, and we considered our job done.
However, a few years later, our circumstances changed and we considered other options. We toured schools, spoke to local parents and ended up deciding to move our daughters to an all-girl institution. Although we were confident it was the right choice, my husband and I were still hesitant about choosing single-sex education and the long term benefits.
Two years later, I can honestly say I wish we had moved them sooner.
The Benefits of Single-Sex Education
1. Single-sex education is more common than you might think
Growing up in Mississippi 30 years ago, single-sex education was nearly unheard of, but things have begun to change since the early 2000s. Although single-sex schools are more common in the private sector, the number of public all-girls and all-boys schools are on the rise, as educators and researchers alike recognize the benefits children derive from single-sex environments.
All-girls and all-boys schools are more common in places such as the UK, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore and Hong Kong. These environments provide researchers with rich data, allowing them to compare how boys and girls perform when educated together and kept apart. There is growing evidence that girls specifically perform better when they are educated on their own, particularly in mathematics and science. In environments free from societal pressures, more girls exceed expectations in traditionally male-dominated fields.
2. An all-girl school helped my shy child blossom
My older daughter has always been shy, content to monitor the world from the sidelines, taking everything in and storing it away. In mixed classes, her teachers complained that she was bright enough, but lacked confidence. Within six months at an all-girls school, that complaint disappeared.
Surrounded only by other girls, my daughter found the confidence to take risks. Her teachers encouraged her to speak up in class, take the lead in group work, try out for chorus, and play more sports. She no longer had to compete with the boisterous voices of 20 little boys. She felt safe to test out her wings and learn to soar.
3. An all-girl school inspires my mathematical child
During our school tour, we asked one of the teachers what she saw as the major difference between mixed and single-sex education. She said that the lessons and activities are the same, but in a single-sex environment, girls spread into the typically male-dominated areas. If everything is a “girl” thing, you can be sporty, mathematical, into engineering, or love science without risking any sort of stigma.
Our all-girls school takes extra care to highlight female accomplishments in all subjects. The girls are encouraged to learn about women who helped change history and shape society, even if that means digging in beyond what is covered in a traditional textbook. Career day comes under the heading of “Future Women,” with women from the community coming in to present their work and what opportunities will be available in the future. My younger daughter loudly proclaims her plans to become a mathematician or a scientist. That these are traditionally male-dominated fields doesn’t even register. She has role models galore, modern and historic, keeping her dreams firmly within reach.
4. Our girls don’t miss the boys… right now
I honestly thought my girls would miss having boys in the classroom and on the playground. Yet when I ask them, both of them look at me as though I’ve sprouted a second head. It doesn’t even cross their minds that boys are not there. Our older daughter is a tween and she is still unfazed.
As we look toward the high school years, this remains my number one concern. I’ve read the research and spoken with other parents and children. The girls graduating from our high school date, have boyfriends (or girlfriends), and otherwise active social lives. The classroom remains a safe space, without the pressure to look cute or impress the opposite sex. Or so they tell me. I’ll wait to see for myself.
My husband and I made the best choice we could for our daughters. I envy my girls, watching them grow up in an environment that instills and nurtures the belief that a woman can be anything she dreams of becoming.