Same-sex schools or not

We really don’t think there is any need for the apparent conflict on the issue that has arisen. Both sides in the debate need to rein in their positions somewhat.

On one hand, Minister Le Gendre may have jumped the gun by announcing the initiation of a pilot study on same-sex teaching at 20 co-ed government secondary schools. On the other hand, despite their upset at hearing this pilot project announced as if it was a done deal without them being consulted, we do not think TTUTA should reject out of hand the general concept of single-sex teaching.

In his objections to the pilot project, TTUTA general secretary, Peter Wilson, made the point to Newsday that schooling is also about socialisation, with the apparent implication that this is better done in a co-ed rather than a single-sex environment.

Further, apparently in anticipating the argument that prestige schools are single-sex, Wilson suggested the success of such schools may be attributable not just to gender, but to the fact that these schools attract primary pupils from homes of a higher income-level.

At this stage, whether or not TTUTA is justified in saying they were not consulted before the Minister’s announcement, we suggest that it is too soon for anyone to be taking concrete positions on the merits and demerits of single-sex and co-ed schooling. What we would say, however, is that we suspect there is a plethora of information, both local and foreign, on the benefits and drawbacks of each type of system.

Arguments aplenty have already been reported by this newspaper. The Minister made the point that it is actually the boys more than the girls who might likely be the beneficiaries of single-sex education, saying that boys are now underperforming relative to girls in a co-ed environment.

On the other hand, Presbyterian School Board chairman, Hatim Gardener, said, “Students coming out of a mixed school, are better prepared to deal with society”.

So, there are many aspects to be debated in this question of possibly switching co-ed schools to single-sex. The Government has done well to replace all of the old junior secondary schools with five-year schools, on the heels of previously expanding the old senior comprehensive schools to be five-year and now in some cases, seven-year schools. Some may see the question of single-sex schools as just the next logical phase to be debated.

We welcome the Minister’s assurance that the pilot scheme will be phased in gradually, rather than wholesale, as she said it would be done “to see whether in the future this could be what works for us.”

Of course, associated with this gender issue is the whole question of differentiated teaching by ability. Should classes be comprised of pupils of mixed ability — which sounds noble and non-discriminatory in theory — or should children be put into different ability groups, whether as a whole class or for a particular subject?

As this society considers these issues, all we ask for is an honest, open and informed debate, from all quarters. We hope the various parties won’t simply bandy around politically-correct sounding slogans and try to defend turf but will genuinely put forward views in the best interest of the nation’s children.

We also note that different children benefit from different teaching models, so we suggest that the country’s education system retains/creates as much of such diversity as is required to give each of our children their best possible chance to achieve what is right for them.

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"Same-sex schools or not"

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