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Contemporary educators and psychologists pay much attention to the relationship between gender and education. For example, they focus on such aspects as academic achievement of male and female students.
In addition, they examine the socialization of boys and girls in educational institutions, especially the way in which they perceive gender roles.
In this paper, I would like to discuss the socialization and academic achievement in Australian single-sex schools. In particular, I intend to examine distinctive peculiarities of these educational institutions and their impact on students’ performance and behavior.
The understanding of this question can be of great importance nowadays, when teachers and parents try to determine what kind of learning environment is better for learners. While discussing this issue, I will strongly rely on the humanistic theories of education.
In particular, I will refer to the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu and other scholars who believe that gender is primarily a social construct (Bourdieu as cited in Arnot 2002, p. 41).
This means that both males are females are taught to comply with specific norms that are considered to be normal for their sex (Bourdieu as cited in Arnot 2002, p. 41).
By looking at the single-sex schools, one can see that academic achievement and socialization do not depend on some inherent attitudes or capabilities of learners.
Furthermore, students’ performance depends on the attitudes and beliefs of teachers, rather than the structure of school. Moreover, these variables are shaped by parents and media. These are the main issues that I want to examine.
The main concepts related to gender and education
There are several concepts that should be discussed in this paper because they are useful for understanding academic achievement and socialization of girls and boys in single-sex schools. One of them is knowledge-gender dynamics which is discussed by Gabrielle Ivinson and Patricia Murphy (2007).
This concept means that certain part of school curriculum can be associated either with masculinity or femininity (Ivinson, & Murphy 2007, p. 60). For example, it was once considered that physical sciences or mathematics had been more suitable for males (Ivinson, & Murphy 2007, p. 60).
In contrast, literature, music and drama were thought to be more appropriate for women (Ivinson, & Murphy 2007, p. 60). For a long time, this approach was dominant in many educational organizations. Only nowadays this trend is slowly reversed by teachers.
Certainly, modern teachers do not share this opinion, but it still affects the attitudes of many people. For example, this stereotype can affect the decisions of parents who often force their children to choose certain subjects in college. Furthermore, knowledge-gender dynamics can affect the attitudes of students.
In particular, it can lead to low levels of confidence among girls who can believe that they cannot cope with mathematical tests. Furthermore, these students may believe that they cannot learn some subjects like natural sciences.
The thing is that this view can be only self-suggestion that has nothing to do with the actual performance of boys and girls. This is the danger of associating subjects or skills with masculinity or femininity. Therefore, such a concept as knowledge-gender dynamics should not be overlooked.
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It is important for the discussion of single-sex education. In particular, I would like to see whether such schools ensure that boys and girls can acquire knowledge and skills and whether they have equal opportunities.
Secondly, it is important to discuss the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu who examined the role of gender in education. This sociologist believes that in contemporary communities there is “sexual division of labor” (Bourdieu as cited in Arnot 2002, p. 41).
His theory implies that girls and boys have to conform to certain rules and expectations that society sets for them. Thus, students are taught to be act in a certain way. For instance, boys are supposed to be courageous, determinate, and resolute. In turn, women are supposed to be skilled in household activities.
The main issue is that such requirements often restrict the capabilities of an individual, and this person cannot fulfill his/her potential. This is why gender roles are regarded as social constructs.
One can also refer to the ideas of Jo-Anne Dillabough (2001) who believes that gender identities of students are constructed mostly in schools (p. 28). More importantly, the construction of these identifies strongly depends on the opinions that teachers have on gender roles and behavioural norms (Dillabough, 2008).
On the whole, the opinions of these thinkers are of great importance for this discussion, because they can explain the differences in socialization and academic achievement between boys and girls. Furthermore, they can help people understand the work of single-sex schools.
Overall, one can say that gender differences can be constructed by other people; nevertheless, they are often attributed to some natural qualities and attributes of human beings. This is the main point that should be remembered by people who speak about gender and education.
The knowledge of Pierre Bourdieu’s theory is important for the discussion of the single-sex schools. These organizations can show the socialization and academic achievement of students are affected by the learning environment.
In particular, it is necessary to determine whether these schools foster or undermine common stereotypes about sex, gender roles and power. The thing is that the values instilled at school determine later social and family life of an individual.
It should also be noted that gender differences are also of great importance to psychologists and neurobiologists who also examine possible distinctions between males and females. Their main argument is that it is difficult to find consistent brain differences among females and males (Vickers, 2010, p. 204).
The studies that examine learning strategies of male and female students do not demonstrate that boys or girls have different aptitudes or skills (Lingard, Martino, and Mills, 209, p. 44).
Researchers suggest that certain parts of the curriculum cannot be associated with masculinity or femininity (Lingard, Martino, and Mills, 209, p. 44). This is why it is not permissible to say that male and female students differ dramatically in terms of their academic achievement or socialization patterns.
Moreover, it is not possible to argue that girls or boys are more likely to perform better in some academic areas. Such an assumption is not supported by empirical studies.
This is the main point that teachers should take into consideration. So, there may be no need to design specific instruction methods for male and female students. Overall, these concepts play an important role for the discussion of academic achievement and socialization of male and female students.
Therefore, it is important to discuss whether single-sex schooling can really contribute to better academic performance and socialization of boys and girls. These are the main questions that I would like to examine the following section of this paper.
In my opinion, this discussion can be important for showing how gender identities are formed through education and teaching practices.
It seems that more attention should be paid to the strategies of teachers, rather than the type of educational institution. This is the main point that I would like to emphasize in this paper.
The role of same-sex education in contemporary Australia
It should be noted that the number of same-sex schools has declined in Australia, especially if we are speaking about the period between 1985 and 1995 (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2007, unpaged).
Modern Australians give preference to co-educational schools since people want their children to be educated in a diverse environment. Nevertheless, some parents still continue to choose single-sex schools for their children.
It should be noted that the parents of such children usually have a higher level of income and education (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2007, unpaged). In many cases, single-sex schools are private (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2007, unpaged).
Currently, many educators and psychologists in Australia debate whether such schools can better contribute to personal and intellectual development of a student. At this point, there is no conclusive evidence regarding this question.
There are several peculiarities of single-sex schools and in many cases researchers can offer different assessment of these educational institutions. At first I would like to focus on the process of socialization or the acquisition of values, norms, or beliefs that are accepted by the community.
Socialization of teachers is probably the most important task of teachers because these professionals help children understand the norms of the society and its understanding of gender.
Some researchers believe that these educational organizations do not contribute to the socialization of boys and girls. For instance, in her article Janna Jackson (2010) argues that such form of education only reinforces students’ stereotypes about gender (p. 237).
In particular, the author believes that such schools can foster misogynistic attitudes of boys (Jackson, 2010, p. 237). In other word, they may treat female students as inferiors (Jackson, 2010, p. 237). In the long term, these students can have very sexist views of other people (Jackson, 2010, p. 237).
Furthermore, Janna Jackson warns teachers about the dangers of homophobia (2010, p. 237). So, these stereotypes can greatly affect their future family life.
In contrast, girls can be forced to comply with existing gender stereotypes, especially one can speak about the idea that women should be concerned mostly education of children or household activities.
In her book, Judith Gill (2004) point out that in such an environment, girls can get used to the idea that power belongs to males (p. 44). This is one of the possible risks that educators should not overlook.
This is why many people prefer co-educational schools. Nevertheless, one should not suppose that male students from single-sex schools are inevitably prejudiced. Such an assumption has not been substantiated. These students can free from stereotypes about gender.
Moreover, in single-sex schools, girls can be much more empowered, especially if teachers emphasize the equality of both sexes. Apart from that, Gabrielle Ivinson and Patricia Murphy (2007) believe that teachers can tailor different lesson for girls and boys (p. 70).
For instance, science teachers can set lower standards for girls (Ivinson & Murphy, 2007, p. 72). The problem is that very soon these girls will a lower academic achievement in these subjects (Ivinson & Murphy, 2007, p. 72).
This is one of the potential problems that teacher should take into consideration, especially when they set performance standards for boys and girls who attend single-sex schools. These are the possible drawbacks of these educational organizations; however, they have not been fully demonstrated.
Nevertheless, one should not suppose that researchers are always skeptical about the possibilities of single-sex education. In her article, Janna Jackson (2010) describes the arguments of those people who support the idea of same-sex education.
In particular, they argue that students in the single-sex schools are not distracted by the opposite sex (Jackson, 2010, p. 232). There is competition between the students of the opposite sex. It is believed that in such an environment, students are better able to focus on their learning activities (Jackson, 2010, p. 232).
One should bear in mind that such opinions are expressed mostly by school administrators, but they are not substantiated empirically. Secondly, the advocates of this approach say that girls and boys prefer different methods of instructions and their needs are better met in single-sex schools (Jackson, 2010, p. 232).
Still, Lingard, Martino, and Mills (2009) point that such claims are very difficult to substantiate, because it is necessary to examine very large samples of population in order to confirm such a hypothesis (p. 44). Thus, one can argue that the benefits or drawbacks of such schools still require in-depth examination.
Overall, researchers and educators provide various narratives when describing the experiences of students in single-sex schools. Some scholars believe that teachers in co-educational schools can unintentionally reinforce sexual bias of students.
In particular, they can treat male and female students in a different way (Sadker & Silber, 2007, p. 265). For example, physical education teachers can ask boys and girls to do different tasks (Sadker & Silber, 2007, p. 265). Such strategies cannot be explained by the policies of single-sex schools.
Their administrators emphasize that male and female students must have equal educational opportunities. More likely, the differences in teaching strategies can be attributed to the attitudes and beliefs of educators. These people may not be completely free from gender biases.
In this regard, one can refer to the notion of knowledge-gender dynamics mentioned by Gabrielle Ivinson and Patricia Murphy (2007). Again, even now some educators believe that some parts of the curriculum are masculine or feminine.
Thus, teachers should make sure that girls or boys can acquire knowledge and skill of every subject that is taught in schools. Educators should remember that by setting different academic standards for boys and girls, they can deprive students of many opportunities.
Overall, one can argue that the academic performance is mostly determined by the skills and attitudes of teachers, rather than the type of school and its policies.
Additionally, the process of socialization in such schools takes a different form. Boys or girls, who do not study together with the peers of the opposite sex, may not regard gender roles in the same way.
As it has been noted before, such students may share popular stereotypes about the role that men and women should play in the society, especially if teachers reinforce these stereotypes (Patterson, 2012, p. 40). Moreover, they may not be able to cooperate with students of the opposite sex (Patterson, 2012, p. 40).
In the future, it may be difficult for them to interact with the opposite sex (Jackson, 2010, p. 237). However, there are some positive aspects of single-sex schools. In particular, if teachers in such schools can be free from biases. These educators can help learners develop their skills and fulfill their talents.
As a rule, this outcome is possible in those single-sex schools where teachers and administrators set very high performance standards without paying attention to students’ gender. Therefore, there is no reason to assume that students of single-sex schools perform better or worse than co-educational schools.
The second aspect that should be discussed is the statistical data regarding the educational attainment in the single-sex schools. This evidence is most important for assessing the performance of schools.
Overall, Australian researchers offer different views on academic achievement and they can provide very conflicting results about the performance of male and female students.
For instance, Millicent Pool (1990) believes that girls attending single-sex schools feel more confident in their mathematical skills and the results of their tests are improved (p. 14). So, one can say that in such schools girls or boys are better able to fulfill their talents.
Nevertheless, this researcher also points out that this trend does not necessarily manifests itself in every single-sex school (Pool, 1990, p. 14). In this case, the outcome depends on the skills and attitudes of teachers, especially the performance standards they set for boys and girls.
Additionally, Chee Leung (2006) reports that boys who attend Australian single-sex schools, score better at their tertiary entrant tests. However, this evidence is not sufficient to say these results will always be replicated (Leung, 2006, unpaged).
Thus, further studies are needed to determine single-sex schools really contribute to better educational attainment of learners.
In my opinion, the researchers will need to conduct longitudinal studies in order to evaluate educational attainment of learners. This type of research can resolve the debate held by teachers, policy-makers, and parents.
Overall, many parents have to decide whether single-sex schooling is better for their children. This is one of the most important choices that they have to make. Moreover, researchers attempt to find empirical evidence in order to determine what kind of learning environment is most suitable for boys and girls.
Humanistic theories of education suggest that single-sex schools can produce different effects on students. On the one hand, such institutions can only reinforce common gender stereotypes and make students only more biased against people of the opposite sex.
Again, the concerns raised by Janna Jackson (2010) should not be disregarded. Yet, the effects can be quite different. Teachers in such schools can refute common stereotypes and make girls or boys less biased toward each other.
Thus, the socialization of students in these schools can follow different patterns. The academic achievement is another aspect that should be discussed.
There is some evidence that students of such schools have higher levels of academic attainment, but one cannot say that this trend is typical of every single-sex school. Thus, it is not permissible to argue that, they are better or worse than co-educational schools.
Yet, one still can say gender differences are primarily social constructs. For instance, the behavior differences of boys and girls can be explained by the influence of social environment, rather than biological peculiarities. Teachers can shape students’ attitudes, values, and perception of their gender roles.
The same thing can be said about educational attainment because the performance of learners depends on the standards that teachers set for them.
Thus, the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu and Jo-Anne Dillabough can be applicable to modern schools in Australia. Their theories can tell educators the ways in which gender identity is formed in school. So, parents should pay more attention to the competence of teachers, rather than the type of school or its policies.
Modern researchers and educators attempt to develop teaching methods that can best suit the needs of children of different ages or sexes. Moreover, they try to make sure that students can be free from common stereotypes about gender or race.
The examples discussed in this paper suggest that the outcome greatly depends on the strategies that educators use. They should be free from stereotypes and avoid reinforcing them in the classroom. Teachers’ attitudes can shape the academic performance of boys and girls as well as their behavior.
The effects of single-sex education have not been fully examined. Certainly, the number of such schools diminished within the last decade, but many parents can prefer to send their children to such educational organizations.
However, their efficiency still should be examined. The researchers should collect empirical evidence regarding the academic performance of learners.
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