Mixed gender schools create an educational environment where boys and girls (or men and women) receive opportunities together. This coed system began to develop in the 19th century, and it today has become the standard in most cultures around the world. It is significantly different when compared to the same-gender education where each is segregated from the other.
The world’s oldest institution to focus on a co-educational experience is Dollar Academy in Scotland. It is a junior and senior school providing classes from the ages of 5-18, offering day systems and a boarding opportunity for families in the parish and surrounding area. About 1,250 students are currently enrolled here.
Then the first co-educational college was founded in 1833 in Oberlin, Ohio, with 44 students, although a full equal status for both genders did not occur until 1837. The first women graduating with bachelor’s degrees did so in 1840.
These are the advantages and disadvantages to consider when developing the structure and curriculum for mixed gender schools for each community.
List of the Advantages of Mixed Gender Schools
1. Students receive more access to diversity in a mixed-gender school.
When students of all ages have access to more diversity in their educational environments, then their personal progress and grades are typically better. Kids who have classrooms which include people who only look or think just like them create an echo chamber that only support one world view. Having access to various perspectives and experiences creates more opportunities, reduces the mental effort needed to combat stereotypes, and improves the overall attitude of the institution.
When boys and girls are given access to each other at an early age in a secure environment like the school, then it becomes easier for them to adapt to changing conditions when they get older. It creates cultural and social advantages that can last for a lifetime.
2. Co-educational environments bridge the equality gap.
Our world has made significant strides towards gender equality in the past century. Women’s suffrage movement around the globe have gained traction even in traditional societies where the role of the female is subservient to the men. By creating mixed-gender schools that offer equal opportunities to both genders, people can begin to see that we are humans first. Our gender identity becomes secondary to the overall societal role of our species.
Institutions which practice this philosophy treat their students equally with no preference to gender. That means assignments are given based on need instead of preconceived societal notions. No one receives any special treatment simply because they are a boy or a girl.
3. It promotes opportunities for socialization.
Students who receive an education from institutions that encourage same-gender classrooms struggle to interact with members of the opposite sex after they graduate. This struggle can impact multiple layers of their life, including job opportunities which may require frequent interactions with someone of another gender.
By creating chances to practice social interactions in a safe environment while growing up, mixed-gender schools can help young students start building the foundation for their vocational and social future from kindergarten on up. By giving our children familiarity now when there is adult supervision present, we can prepare them for a world that is abandoning segregation policies rapidly.
4. Mixed-gender schools can prepare students for the real world.
Although there are some advantages to consider with a same-gender school (especially for boys) when considering class availability, personal interactions, and acceptance, mixed-gender schools provide more preparation for what will happen in real life. The average person interacts with individuals from all gender identifications throughout their day. Understanding the similarities and differences that exist between each individual will make it easier to form relationships, find moments of success, and interact with future clients in meaningful ways.
Instead of creating a world where everyone heads toward their preferred comfort zone, mixed-gender schools offer an opportunity for the world to become a smaller place because we become accustomed to the idea that everyone should have the same chance to pursue dreams and find success that we get.
5. Co-educational environments can help to develop better communication skills.
It can be uncomfortable to have a conversation with someone who feels like a stranger. When you do not receive exposure to different cultures, ethnicities, or genders during your formative years, then anyone who was outside of your personal circles would create social discomfort. We must find ways to communicate with one another in face-to-face situations because mobile devices and computer screens are not always available. By creating an opportunity to practice these interactions at a mixed-gender school, it can help students become confident in how they create an initial first impression.
“I don’t know that parents should have the opportunity to give their students an inferior education,” ACLU strategist Allie Bohm told NPR in 2014. “Many of the programs are based on and perpetrate gender stereotypes, which limit opportunities for boys and girls alike.”
6. It eliminates any justification for sexism in our educational environments.
Women can receive numerous benefits during their career because of the opportunities that mixed-gender schools provide. According to the Pew Research Center, 42% of women in the United States say that they have faced discrimination issues in their job at least once. There is a broad array of personal experiences with this issue, ranging from wage gap problems to being passed over for essential assignments.
23% of women say that they have experienced treatment at work and where is as if they were not competent for the job that they were doing. Only 6% of men say the same thing. By creating more opportunities to work with one another in mixed-gender schools, we can begin to adjust our perspectives from a professional standpoint to create more equality.
7. Students can work up to the educational successes of their peers.
Girls can average scores that are more than 30 points higher on a 600-point reading performance scale in almost every society. Using data from the 2009 Program for International Student Assessment, Margriet van Hek, who works as a sociologist at Utrecht University, found that boys can significantly improve their scores when their classroom composition is 60% or higher for the opposite gender. The scores are higher for girls in this structure as well.
Girls averaged a score just below 440 when their classroom composition was less than 60% of their gender. When they learned in mixed-gender schools with more than 60%, then their scores went above 450. Boys scored below 410 in the former example, and then at nearly 430 in the latter.
8. It reduces the costs that school districts would otherwise face.
School districts in the United States often embrace the idea of having mixed-gender schools because it reduces their overall administrative costs. When you offer same-gender programs, then you must shift from one program to three: one for the boys, another for the girls, and then a mixed-gender option as well. Psychology Professor Janet Hyde at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and her team reviewed 184 single-gender education studies in 2014 and found that after the first year of segregating genders, there is no meaningful difference in the educational opportunities experience.
Using a total of 14 different outcomes, even the attitudes about learning, self-esteem, and performance were all equal.
List of the Disadvantages of Mixed Gender Schools
1. It defies the traditional roles of men and women in many societies.
Ever since Sigmund Freud asserted in 1924 that biology is the primary determinant for gender identity, societies have been using body parts as a protective factor for an individual’s personal and professional path through life. Enduring gender norms from centuries of practice before Freud undoubtedly helped to create this famous hegemonic idea. Gender stereotypes can seem harmless, such as giving sporting equipment to the boys and dolls to the girls. The only problem here is that once individuals start seeing themselves in these definitions, they begin to define their confidence by them.
Mixed-gender schools challenge gender norms. This practice defies the traditional roles of men and women in many societies. Because it is something that is different, then this practice is sometimes feared. Instead of creating more educational opportunities, the presence of such an institution could create loathing and violence instead.
2. Mixed-gender schools can create problems with sexual distraction.
Combining educational opportunities for boys and girls in the younger grades can often help students form friendships, focus on their homework, and provide equal access to local learning chances. As kids reach adolescence, the differences in gender can become a distraction thanks to normal biological reactions to one another. High schools and colleges can become a place of heartache and depression because of adverse reactions to relationship issues. Even a simple attraction to another person can reduce learning experiences.
This disadvantage is present to some extent in the same-gender schools as well. When comparing the two structures, the mixed-gender schools tend to underperform because there are more issues that revolve around our student’s self-consciousness.
3. This structure forces students to learn in unnatural ways.
Boys and girls have a different biology because of their core gender differences. Men typically learn mathematics faster than women, but then they struggle in trying to pick up language, reading, and communication skills. When there is a mixed-gender school, the structure of the curriculum attempts to equalize boys and girls to learn through the same process. This issue impacts the learning opportunities for both because they receive exposure to methods that are not well-suited to their needs.
The presence of mixed-gender schools can promote equality in society, but it can also hold some students back from achieving their full potential.
4. It can create issues with academic performance.
When students have an opportunity to learn in a same-gender environment, then there are typically fewer issues of intimidation and bullying. Kids tend to be less shy when in this type of institution as well. When children are feeling embarrassed or scared, then they usually will not interact in classroom settings as often as they would otherwise. This process creates a situation where they would not perform as well as they could, which is a problem mixed-gender schools often struggle with repetitively.
5. There is a risk of encouraging intimate relationships at an early age.
Teens are already struggling with how their brain develops during these critical educational years. They become more impulsive, sometimes aggressive, and there is little regard for the long-term consequences of their choices. After the age of 13 (and sometimes younger), each decision tends to be more about short-term pleasure than the creation of future opportunities. By having mixed-gender schools, it creates more chances for students to become sexually active.
The CDC reports that over 50% of teenagers in the United States have had a sexual encounter before the age of 18. Most teams have their first intimate situation with someone who they consider to be a boyfriend or girlfriend. These statistics even hold for those who feel like premarital sex is against their religion or morals. It is an issue which is not as prevalent in same-gender schools.
6. Students may encounter issues with their self-esteem or confidence.
Students typically have more confidence to speak up in class when they are attending a same-gender school. There are fewer issues with self-esteem because no one is trying to impress a member of the opposite gender or worry about what someone they like things about them. Girls are actually less confidence in mixed-gender schools because of the shyness they typically experience around the other gender. This issue is especially prevalent in subjects that are traditionally male-orientated, such as science, technology, engineering, and math.
7. It creates a double standard for girls in mixed-education environments.
When schools create a co-educational setting for all students, then the administrators to hold to more of the traditional worldview on gender roles will apply different standards to boys than girls. Men are typically seen in society as being rugged, strong, and independent in the situations. Women are then viewed in the opposite way, sometimes being seen as fragile or even a sexual object.
School dress codes in a mixed-gender environment often discriminate against girls more than boys. In a recent review of the policy at East Longmeadow High School in Massachusetts, six out of the nine regulations were specific to female students before an update occurred. Women are often taught in these environments that their body causes negativity. Instead of teaching equality, they are taught that they must abide by the behaviors of boys because it is their fault if someone treats them poorly.
8. There can be issues in these schools for those with non-traditional gender identities.
For the better part of 2,000 years, a majority of societies saw humanity as being two genders. It is a perspective that many people still feel is true despite the increased number of people who publicly identify somewhere else on the gender spectrum. These students do not always feel welcome in mixed-gender schools, which is another disadvantage that can apply to same-gender educational opportunities as well.
Some students feel like their gender identity is different from their assigned sex at birth. People who fall under the transgender umbrella may sometimes feel unrestricted by the typical gender stereotypes and roles. There are students who feel that they are neither, while others might identify with both simultaneously. Kids in this situation deserve the same opportunities for an education as anyone else.
9. It gives girls an advantage while providing a disadvantage to boys.
“In coed schools, boys tend to populate the lower end of the academic spectrum,” Brad Adams, the Executive Director of the International Boys’ Schools Coalition told Our Kids. “Boys’ schools specialize in designing curriculum that hooks them into learning.” Adams describes the environment of mixed-gender schools as a “gender pressure cooker.” By creating same-gender classrooms, there is more time to explore various interests without the requirement to be in a stereotypical role that tends to be more prevalent when boys and girls go to school together.
10. Mixed-gender schools can increase the teacher-student ratio.
From 1984 to 2015, the average student-teacher ratio for primary schools in the United States was 14.68 students per teacher. It reached a maximum of 16.17 students in 1995, while hitting a low of 13.59 in 2010. Because same-gender classrooms tend to have a smaller enrollment than mixed-gender schools, the classroom sizes tend to be smaller for each teacher. That means there are more opportunities for one-on-one instruction for each student. This structure may be why both genders excel in non-traditional societal roles in these environments compared to the times when they get to learn together.
11. Educational research suggests that same-gender schools can provide better outcomes.
Education Professor Kathy Piechura-Couture at Stetson University studies the outcomes of mixed-gender schools with same-gender learning environments. She says that groups boys and girls separately instead of together creates more opportunities for their teachers to tailor their lessons to the needs of the student.
“From the last 12 years of research we’ve done, we’ve never had a mixed-gender class statistically outperform a single-gender class,” she told NPR in 2014. “On many occasions, we’ve had the single-gender classes outperform the mixed-gender ones.”
In a 2012 study looking at South Korean schools where students were randomly assigned to single-gender and coed classrooms, the kids who went to schools with only the same gender were more likely to attend a four-year college.
A Final Thought on Mixed-Gender Schools
The world is slowly progressing toward a global society where there is real equality between men, women, and other gender identities. In the past 100 years, we have shifted from a majority of people feeling that men are superior to women to having most individuals feel like both primary genders can contribute equally to the success of a household. Part of the reason for this change in perspective is the presence of mixed-gender schools.
Our future battles in this subject are going to involve students who do not identify specifically as being male or female. Local school districts are struggling with this new shift because many structures were built on the idea of mixing two groups of people together instead of more. The same discrimination issues that women once faced are now problems that non-binary, transgender, genderfluid, agender, bigender, intergender, and pangender students encounter in our educational systems.
The advantages and disadvantages of mixed-gender schools show us that we’ve come a long way in a short time, but there is still a lot of work left to be done. Every student deserves to receive a quality education so that they can pursue whatever dreams they may have. Now that we are bringing integration to men and women, we must provide the same opportunities for everyone on the gender spectrum.
Natalie Regoli is a child of God, devoted wife, and mother of two boys. She has a Master's Degree in Law from The University of Texas. Natalie has been published in several national journals and has been practicing law for 18 years.