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Trinidad Express newspaper-18th March 2010

Co-education or single sex schools or classes?

This week I shall leave governance and politics for the time being and write on
education. I shall respond to an article in the Express (16th March) by Raymond
Hackett on single sex or mixed sex schools or classes (entitled: Schooling and g
endermania) . In this country this issue is mainly about secondary schools since
at primary level even the denominational schools, with a few exceptions, are co
-educational. I wrote on this subject five years ago and I shall refer to issues
discussed in those articles (3rd, 10th and 17th March 2005).
In those articles I presented evidence from a number of studies in different cou
ntries which suggested that in single sex classes both boys and girls performed
better. Further girls would opt for science subjects (viewed as “boys” subjects)
more readily in single sex classes than in coeducational and boys would more re
adily opt for art (viewed as a “girls” subject).
Raymond Hackett seems in his article to be arguing for coeducational schools and
refers particularly to an article by Jerry Webster in his special education blo
g which he interprets as supporting coeducation. I have looked at Webster’s blog
and do not interpret it as definitely favouring a coeducational approach. Be th
at as it may, my articles in 2005 referred to the following evidence in the Cari
bbean which although limited seemed to suggest positive results from single sex
classes. I quote from my article of 10th March 2005: “Marlene Hamilton, who cond
ucted a study in Jamaica, found that students attending single-sex schools out p
erformed students in co-educational schools in almost every subject tested. At t
he time of the study single sex government (public) schools were still widely pr
esent in Jamaica, and so socio-economic effects could be discounted. Marlene Ham
ilton noted that girls at single sex schools attained the highest achievement; b
oys at single sex schools were next; then boys at co-educational schools; and gi
rls at co-educational schools did worst of all”.
In my article of 17th March 2005 I wrote of a study in Trinidad: “In the study u
ndertaken by the school principal (Ms. Betty-Ann Rohlehr) comparison was made be
tween single sex and co-educational classes by dividing the students from their
first year into three all boy, three all girl and two co-educational classes. Th
e separation of classes was continued for two years and the results were recorde
d up to the CXC examination. Unfortunately the resources were not available for
statistical analysis of the results. However the raw data appeared to show an i
mprovement in both performance and discipline 9in single sex classes). The raw d
ata are still available and so it is extremely important that the resources be p
rovided for this data be further analysed”.
A relatively long term study conducted at the University of Cambridge in the Uni
ted Kingdom by Mike Younger and Molly Warrington on “Raising Boys’ Achievement”
is of interest particularly as it encompassed a wider sphere than just the gende
r issue. This was a four year study (2000 to 2004). I quote from the Executive S
ummary: “There is emerging evidence, despite the reservations of those who feel
that comprehensive schools should be co-educational in all respects, that many g
irls and boys feel more at ease in such classes (single-sex), feel more able to
interact with learning and to show real interest without inhibition, and often a
chieve more highly as a result. As with other intervention strategies, however,
there is the need for some caution in any analysis. Such single-sex classes are
not a panacea in themselves; in some schools, boys’-only classes have become ver
y challenging to teach, or stereotyping of expectation has established a macho r
egime which has alienated some boys. Even in the most successful schools, both b
oys and girls have consistently said that they do not want to be in single-sex c
lasses for all lessons. Evidence in favour of the development of single-sex clas
ses for some subjects, from both students’ voices and from an analysis of levels
of academic achievement, is nonetheless persuasive”.
In Trinidad and Tobago the religious denominations have kept boys and girls in s
eparate schools at secondary level, although at primary level there have been mi
xed schools. At secondary level exceptions are two Anglican schools-St. Stephen’
s College in Trinidad and Bishop’s High School in Tobago that are co-educational
. Government schools are in most instances co-educational, Queen’s Royal College
being a notable exception. However two Anglican schools in Trincity, Trinity (E
ast) and Bishops (East) provide an interesting development in schooling in this
country for the former is an all boys school and the latter is an all girls scho
ol but they are adjacent. Indeed the school is built with two wings one wing hou
sing the boys school and the other the girls school, with a common area which ho
uses the common Library and Lunch Room. These schools thus have the best of both
worlds, that is, single sex classes but with social mixing of the boys and girl
s being possible at lunch and for extra-curricular activities. Recently a mixed
sex sixth form school has been opened in the same building complex.
With the poor performances in many schools, particularly of boys, we need to exp
lore every possibility that might contribute to this problem. In is imperative t
hat the Government fund research on this subject perhaps as a joint effort betwe
en the University of the West Indies, the University of Trinidad and Tobago, the
University of the Southern Caribbean and the new Catholic Religious Educational
Development Institute (CREDI) which is also doing research in education.