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If male and female brains are different, should schooling be single sex?

Very interesting (and headline grabbing) research from University of Pennsylvania suggests male and female brains differ in their strengths, with men typically outperforming women on spatial tasks, and women outperforming men on tasks involving memory and intuition. With this is mind, should we be considering single sex lessons, or teaching girls and boys using different techniques? (Link to story from The Independent:

Seeking Opinion Education 3 years ago
Holly Seddon admin
Holly Seddon
Editor-in-chief of
Kent, UK

5 experts and 4 parents have answered

Matt Thrower writer
Matt Thrower Parent. Gamer. Coder. Writer. Bath, Bath and North East Somerset, UK

No. Whatever the academic benefits (and I'm skeptical about those - this sort of attention grabbing science is often pretty dubious), school is about learning much more than the detail you get in the classroom. It's about understating and negotiating the complex and difficult world of adult social relationships, responsibility, power structures.

The real world is not gender-segregated, so dividing schools along gender lines hugely decreases the value of these vital lessons.

8 Reply Share:
Opinion 3 years ago
Simon Munk writer
Simon Munk Consumer tech journalist, mountain biker, dad of two. Walthamstow

No, it shouldn't.

Firstly, the research - if you read it rather than the headlines - is a study of mostly teen and adult males and females. It should come as no surprise in a society already divided heavily along gender lines, with stereotypical roles and traits still routinely attributed to people based on gender, that our brains have evolved to match that - and in fact, the study concludes that the differences between male and female brains don't emerge until around 14. In other words, this could be innate differences created by hormones, or it could be that by that point, children start to truly differentiate each other by gender more strongly. Nature? Nurture? We simply don't know, yet.

What we do know is what happens educationally when we separate genders. It's not good IMHO. The commonly agreed rule is girls to do better in tests, boys tend to do worse. But even that's been demolished. Evidence cited in The Washington Post was: "any apparent advantage of single-sex schools disappears when you account for other characteristics, such as students’ prior ability and the length of the school day."

From the same study: "teachers’ labeling and segregating of social groups increases children’s stereotyping and prejudice" and "children who interact mostly with same-gender peers develop increasingly narrow skill sets and interests".

5 Reply ( 3 ) Share:
Opinion 3 years ago
expert answer
Suzanne Freyjadis expert
Suzanne Freyjadis Consultant, Education Technology Austin, US
Technology expert

I completely agree with Matt and Simon.

I think that the point made about the real world not being gender segregated is important.

We need to be able to understand and relate to one another better, not worse. Learning to work alongside other types of people in a school setting is one of the great benefits of going to school.

3 Reply Share:
Opinion 3 years ago
Frankie Columbu
Frankie Columbu fitness fan and mother of two London, GB

I think there should be flexibility across the school system. Even in single sex schools there are opportunities to mingle with the opposite sex, but single sex schooling is not for everyone. As the differences come light as teenagers and not little kids, single sex schooling wouldn't make a difference at primary school but perhaps should be explored more at secondary school? Not sure I'm keen but some would be.

1 Reply Share:
Opinion 3 years ago
expert answer
Anne Louise Bannon expert
Anne Louise Bannon Television/Media Critic Altadena, US
Parenting skills expert

It's not so much because of the actual differences between the genders that makes single sex education work - and it does help young women, in particular. It's our attitudes about gender. When my own daughter was coming up, I read study after study that showed that girls prosper in all-female environments because they don't have to deal with being unconsciously stereo-typed by teachers. Also, such women went on to be very strong and worked well in mixed gender environments.

It certainly proved so. My daughter thrived in a single gender environment in both high school - where she was pushed to excel for the first time in her life, and later in college. She now works with both genders equally and does quite well.

1 Reply Share:
Experience 3 years ago
expert answer
Roberto Catanuto expert
Roberto Catanuto Teacher, Club Instructor CH
Education expert

It strictly depends on the age your're thinking about. I don't like strict single-sex environment anyway. I think they miss something from the world complexity. But you can prepare single-sex groups and mixed collaborative environments where anyone can learn from each other.

Boys and girls collaborate, reason and tackle problems in very different way in the age span 12 - 17 (more or less). Not always, but most of the time.

I worked in mixed schools in the past, and now work in a single-sex one. Quite reluctant at the beginning, honestly.

My experiences from the past years: in mixed-sex environments, I told my students: "Make a few groups to work with over this project." The fact: more than 90% of the time, girls chose girls and boys chose boys. When a boy tried to get into an all-girls group, he just contributed almost zero. Girls were sharing-prone, organized and behaved, and the boy was just messing around with no predefined order in mind. All-boys groups were much more inventive and messy, but still productive.

1 Reply Share:
Experience 3 years ago
expert answer
Magda de Lange expert
Magda de Lange Global Learning Professional ZA
Education expert

I agree with Matt Thrower and those supporting his argument. Sex is not universal, but akin to gender is culturally and socially constructed. An example is voiced by Anne Fausto-Sterling, Professor of Biology and Gender Studies. She said that by the age of 2-3 years children have already developed a lot and that many of the distinctions seen as sex and biological are indeed socially constructed gendered norms e.g. girls talk more because adults talk more to girl babies and look them more into the eyes.

1 Reply Share:
Opinion 3 years ago
expert answer
Bob Zenhausern expert
Bob Zenhausern CEO Enabling Support Foundation New York, US
Education expert

There may be difference inherent between the male and female brains or this might be culture related. For the moment, assume there are inherent difference. But these would be overshadowed by differences within each gender. A simple example is that the brain of a dyslexic male is different than a non-dyslexic male. If you are going to differentiate teaching based on brain differences, gender should be a secondary distinction.

0 Reply Share:
Fact 3 years ago
Lee Robinson admin
Lee Robinson MC

What do people think about mixed sex schools but single sex classrooms for certain core subjects ?

0 Reply ( 2 ) Share:
Opinion 3 years ago

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