"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Single-Sex versus Coeducational Schooling

There are certainly a lot of ideas out there that sound plausible. Take for example tailoring education according to the learner's preferences or styles. It does sound logical. One specific instance is single-sex education. Gender confers enough differences that one may be able to design approaches or strategies that work better with one gender. Some say girls are "better listeners", thus, teachers spiking up the volume will be more appropriate for an "all-boys" classroom. Some say girls are more cooperative while boys are more competitive. Lessons ideally can be made more effective if a teacher is able to choose a strategy that works best with a particular classroom.

Back in the Philippines, along Katipunan Avenue in Quezon City, one will find Ateneo de Manila University, which offers basic education only to boys,

Screen capture of a Thanksgiving Mass at the Ateneo de Manila Grade School
and Miriam College, which provides elementary and high school education to girls.

Miriam College (formerly called Maryknoll) offers basic education to Filipino girls.
Seeing that elite schools in the Philippines subscribe to a single-sex schooling, it maybe tempting to suggest that public schools follow. That, however, is a monumental task. It is therefore within reason to demand evidence backing up such a suggestion. In fact, with so many schools worldwide providing single-sex education, it is possible to collect data. What is necessary is to perform a valid meta-analysis to extract specifically what can be attributed directly to single-sex education. In this manner, the question of whether keeping boys separate from girls in schools helps in learning can be answered correctly. There is now one such study:

Psychological Bulletin, Advance online publication, http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/a0035740

Proponents of single-sex (SS) education believe that separating boys and girls, by classrooms or schools, increases students’ achievement and academic interest. In this article, we use meta-analysis to analyze studies that have tested the effects on students of SS compared with coeducational (CE) schooling. We meta-analyzed data from 184 studies, representing the testing of 1.6 million students in Grades K–12 from 21 nations, for multiple outcomes (e.g., mathematics performance, mathematics attitudes, science performance, educational aspirations, self-concept, gender stereotyping). To address concerns about the quality of research designs, we categorized studies as uncontrolled (no controls for selection effects, no random assignment) or controlled (random assignment or controls for selection effects). Based on mixed-effects analyses, uncontrolled studies showed some modest advantages for single-sex schooling, for both girls and boys, for outcomes such as mathematics performance but not for science performance. Controlled studies, however, showed only trivial differences between students in SS versus CE, for mathematics performance (g = 0.10 for girls, 0.06 for boys) and science performance (g = 0.06 for girls, 0.04 for boys), and in some cases showed small differences favoring CE schooling (e.g., for girls’ educational aspirations, g = -0.26). Separate analyses of U.S. studies yielded similar findings (e.g., for mathematics performance g = 0.14 for girls and 0.14 for boys). Results from the highest quality studies, then, do not support the view that SS schooling provides benefits compared with CE schooling. Claims that SS schooling is particularly effective for U.S. ethnic minority boys could not be tested due to the lack of controlled studies on this question.
The effects are too small, if there are any. And it is amazing how we sometimes think of something as an important factor when in reality, it is not. Learning styles, learning preferences simply sound fashionable. And at the same time, we ignore factors like poverty and the way we treat teachers. These sound very old-fashioned and do not come with any excitement. Sadly, the things we ignore are the things that truly matter.

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