Is Single-sex Education Promoting Education Equality?

Seeking to promote the education equality for boys and girls, ‘Single-sex Education’ has become a growing trend. Sex segregated education, which separates boys and girls, or commonly known as Single-sex Education, has become a question of considerable value in both developed and developing countries. In ASEAN, some member countries, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand have a number of primary schools operating as the single-sex school, in which Indonesia has already established the first all-girl school since 1857.

However, I argue that the single-sex education is unlikely to promote education equality.

Single-sex school legitimized their status based on the common value that boys and girls have different interest. Proponent of single sex education extended the reason to some ideological beliefs, including: a) male crisis, b) biological differences, c) achievement gaps, and d) distractions. In the case of male crisis, The National Assessment of Educational Progress had proved that male reached lower achievement (National Centre for Educational Statistics, 2005). It is evident that a rate of male being dropout from school is higher than female. The problem of biological differences dwells in the brain capacity, where each respective sex needs different educational treatment. Another reason to uphold single-sex education is the achievement gap. Jimeneez and Lockheed on their study about student’s achievement in single-sex and co-educational school in Thailand found that girls accomplished higher score for mathematics in single-sex school than in co-educational school. Single-sex education was also effective to control male’s behaviour and lessen the distraction in interaction between male and female. It also proved that girl is likely developing their self-esteem, confidence and leadership skill in an all-female school.

However, another perspective argued that single-sex education is creating disparity and greater polarization of gender stereotype. A survey from National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that gender differences in personality were undeniably vigorous across all cultures studied including Malaysia, India, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Segregating male and female will clearly portray gender differences. It will strengthen the hegemony in society about the differences between male and female. The tendency of sexism will get higher along the practice.

While one believes that “learning preferences” and “brain processing” categorizes the difference between male and female, it cannot significantly point out the gender-specific. The learning process is influenced by many factors including socio-cultural and environmental factors. Additional concern deal with impaired social skill. It potentially happens since single – sex school provides limited opportunity for male and female students to socialize. It may cause problems in adult relationship as children get older. Single-sex education can also foster the sensitivity awareness. As in Indonesia, single sex school mostly operated due to religion, in similar with Malaysia that it mostly operated due to ethnicity, and religion.

Therefore, it is viable to assure that segregation based on the merit of socioeconomic status, race or culture, sex or gender is unacceptable. Students also deserve an opportunity to interact and engage with each other, regardless of the perceived ‘differences’. Enhancing the quality of teachers and education system while triggered by parent’s support are the solution to treat the difference in learning process. In order to embody the respect for gender difference and encounter the gender stereotype, students should be involved in the process of creating ‘learning space’ consisting both male and female.

Farieda Ilhami Zulaikha is a research intern at ASEAN Studies Center, Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Universitas Gadjah Mada and a Graduate Student at Department of Linguistics, Faculty of Cultural Sciences, Universitas Gadjah Mada.