According to Gurian et al (2009), single sex schools have been the focus of many educational policy makers and tutors in the United States of America in the last couple of years, and for a variety of reasons. Single gender classes or schools refer to learning institutions where there exist students of a single sex, either boys or girls. These schools are also referred to as single gender institutions. It is mostly common in the secondary and tertiary stages of education. In single sex learning institutions the different genders of students attend detached classrooms or go to class in different structures. Mixed schools, on the other hand, are schools with a combination of both girls and boys as students who attend the same classes in the same buildings without any form of separation, as happens with single gender learning institutions. Over the years, there have been different reasons for the existence of single sex schools that have been put forward. The most significant reason however, is to improve the academic performance of either the boys or girls through the improvement of the educational occurrences they go through. The big question about these single sex schools has, for the longest time, been whether or not such schools enhance learning. Although it has been argued, and correctly so, that such sex segregated schools enhance learning for girls, little has been said about boys. Though many people are ignorant of this fact, such schools actually tend to enhance learning for boys. Of particular interest in the last couple of years has been the variance in the academic performance of boys in the subject of mathematics as compared to the girls’. After long periods of boys performing way better in mathematic than girls, many studies have been conducted to ascertain whether there would be a change in the trend if the different genders attended different mathematics classes. In most schools all over the world, the inclusion of Mathematics in the curricula is of utmost importance, for more or less the same reasons. The main objective of the subject is to foster clearness and perspicuity of the learners thinking patterns; mathematics is aimed at assisting the learners, both in their school life and existence outside the school, in the following up of postulation and suppositions to a rational end result, through the integration of everything they have learnt.
Studies conducted in the elementary and middle school stages of learning in the U.S. about Algebra and the distinct variance in performance between boys and girls implied that the boys and girls had different attitudes, (Kaiser & Rogers, 1995), towards mathematics which were accordingly being displayed in their varying performances. The attitudes may have their roots back in the ancient and medieval periods of history when there existed different subjects and curricula for sons and daughters; it was in such periods that the boys were encouraged to learn arithmetic’s- addition, multiplying, subtraction and division- while the girls were encouraged to learn sewing, cooking and other home related tasks. This was because of the fact that Math was perceived as being too difficult for women and only the men could handle it competently. According to Klein (2007), learning and doing extremely well in arithmetic was a proof of the young men’s nobleness and gallantry. It is most probably for this reason, that many psychiatrists and academicians claim that the girls have higher frequencies of negative mind-sets and anxieties towards mathematics as compared to boys. This anxiety has been described as a feeling of nervousness, dread or trepidation that obstructs good performance in arithmetic. It is asserted that when a student gets apprehensive about arithmetic, they have a propensity for evading circumstances that might necessitate their performing math related equations; this evasion, in turn, causes lack of practice which is crucial if a student is to perform well in the subject (Gurian, Steven & Daniel, 2009). It then leads to lower and lower proficiency and the student continues to perform badly if not worse. The fact that there exist very few or no records or mentioning of female mathematicians or printed editions of books about mathematics by women only servers to strengthen the misplaced attitude that math is a boy’s subject. This difference in levels of confidence and motivation towards mathematics is what has necessitated different math instructions for the two groups. It has also been posited that the gender disparities in performance in mathematics vary with age. This is because in the very early stages of their education, between ages 6 and 10 years, the difference between boys and girls in regards to scores in arithmetic is very slim or non-existent. As they grow older and join high school, however, the gap widens. The gap becomes even wider when the students join college because the boys show a higher inclination than girls in the enrollment to mathematic related careers, (Klein, 2007).
Another area of great contention, according to Gurian, Steven and Daniel 2009, which has played a chief role in the setting up of different mathematics instruction for boys and girls, is the fact that the instructional procedures and teaching methodologies that have been applied for a long time now in the teaching of arithmetic in mixed classes are gender prejudiced and put the girl students at a demerit. This in turn, serves to erode the girls’ buoyancy and assurance in tackling the subject; their interest in the subject is also smothered. The set of courses and program of study for mathematics is a very sensitive issue, more so due to the fact that this is an unavoidable and obligatory subject of all schools in America. The teaching methodologies that are practiced in an arithmetic class should therefore be those that encourage the enjoyment and participation of both the boy and girl child in the learning process; they should also be methodologies that cater for the probability of the presence a few very gifted students in math and a vast group that lacks the enthusiasm or competence required to score well in the subject.
The single gender math instruction for boys has been very successful since its commencement in America. From the early stages of their lives, boys are socialized very differently from girls- both at home and in most social settings. Many times the girls, due to being conceived as delicate, receive help and assistance whenever they go through any difficulties, a thing which cannot be said to be true for boys. It is only natural then that the boys learn to work hard at solving their problems and being relentless until they get solutions; these are the very same qualities that are vital in any mathematics class. Although they were not performing as badly as girls to begin with, the performance of the boys tends to be better and they score higher as contrasted to when they receive instruction in mixed classrooms. There have been several reasons for this dramatic improvement. Firstly, in many American schools the girls view the subject mathematic as being “gross”. Boys who perform very well in mathematics and science related subjects are referred to as “nerds” or “geeks” and have to undergo persistent teasing and sometimes avoidance by the girls who don’t want to be associated with nerds. To be able to gain acceptance the boys put up shows and pretend not be so interested in math; in single instruction classes, however, the boys do not have to put up any shows and they have no need to impress anybody. This enables them to relax and learn which in turn causes the better performance (Gurian, Steven & Daniel, 2009). Another obvious reason as why the boys in single gender math instruction classes have seen a rise in their mathematic scores is because in a single gender class, there are sexual distractions. It is to be noted that while in elementary and high school the learners undergo different developmental changes in different areas of their lives; they go through emotional, mental, psychological and most significantly, physical transformations which affect their feelings and the way they view members of the opposite sex. When in their own classrooms, the boys have little or no such distractions, (Gurian et al, 2009); if they do have them, they quickly get over it by focusing all their energies into their studies- particularly- mathematics and the other mathematics related science subjects (Glasser & Michigan State University, 2008).
Klein 2007, also asserts that this improved performance of the boys could also be due to the fact that in a boys’ only class, the boys are listened to and their needs are effectively taken care of by their tutors as opposed to when they are in a mixed class. In mixed classes the teachers tend to give preeminence and be more inclined to the needs of the girls who are, as earlier stated, perceived to be more delicate and fragile while the boys are sidelined. These two different genders also tend to have different perspectives and view points on similar topics and events. In a boy class it would be easier to develop and retain the interest of the learners if the teacher maintains a loud and interactive atmosphere since boys are generally more energetic than girls, especially during adolescence. The girls on the other hand, are perceived to be more sensitive prefer quieter discussions. Topics that the girls would find dangerous, geeky or disgusting have been proved to be the same topics that boys like most and find very interesting. As opposed to girls, boys tend to work better under pressure and the confrontational approach towards them in the teaching and learning environment tends to yield better results than the softer and gentler approach preferred by girls. In a boys’ only class, therefore, the teacher has the leeway of formulating the teaching methodologies into those that fit the boy child most and consequently ensuring that the boys find the arithmetic classes entertaining, challenging and educative at the same time. All these factors when put together, have a propensity for making the boys love the subject, work hard at it and consequently perform much better than when in a mixed class.
Despite the advantages that are clearly seen when the boys and girls learn in different classes, particularly in the subject of math, there are several disadvantages that have been posited by those who argue that the single sex classes are actually detrimental to the lives of both boys and girls, both in the school and in the outside life thereafter. Firstly, the full responsibility of American education to its citizens lies squarely on the shoulders of the government and the distinct districts. Since the early nineteenth century the major objective of American public education has been to provide all its citizens with learning regardless of their color, religion, race, economic status or gender. For a very long time in history girls have been discriminated against education wise and it is only recently that they have been considered for admission to certain schools to do certain courses. The issue of educating boys and girls in different classrooms whether it is for math or any other subject comes in bad taste to several women and girls’ rights activists and is perceived as intended to continue discriminating against the girls in the quality and quantity of education that they get; this is regardless of the fact that there are also gender distinctive classes and schools for girls as well. Another disadvantage of the single gender math instruction is the fact that sometimes the schools that want to implement this kind of learning do not have the required number of students needed for such instruction to be effective; this has in fact been an impediment for the implementation of such techniques in the teaching of math. The running of single sex schools or establishment of single gender instruction for the different subjects in the American curriculum for public schools is a very expensive endeavor and the government and districts are under pressure with the financial plan limitations. These constraints, in turn tend to be a great disadvantage to the learners since they cannot be provided with the necessary resources they need for effective learning and consequently academic excellence.
It has also been asserted by Blakemore et al (2008) that such kind of instruction for the males or boys has had several negative effects on their perspective of girls and women in general. It is argued that as compared to boys who attend mixed schools where there are common interactions and even friendships with girls, boys in single sex class schools and classes have certain stereotypes towards girls and they find it very difficult to establish relationships with them. Although there have been counter arguments saying the exact opposite of this is true, Glasser, 2008, argues that the socialization process for boys and girls takes place better when they are put together but under the supervision of professional and/ or experienced tutors and counselors.
Conclusively, as Hoy & Hoy (2006) assert, at the end of the day, whether the girls and boys receive mathematic instructions in the same class or not, is not really the main issue here. Putting them in different classes with dissimilar tutoring may have its advantages and disadvantages for the learners, especially in the mathematic subject, but this only presents interim solutions to the real problem. The real problem in the American educational system, as with many others in the world, is for the policy makers and producers of the curricula to come up with educational policies that indeed serve the responsibility of socially, mentally and morally transforming the learners into responsible and self reliant citizens even after school. It then becomes necessary to recommend reforms both in the teaching methodologies and environments that surround the learning of mathematics. There needs to be a greater investment of time, money and resources to ensure that mathematic teachers are efficiently trained to handle the subject proficiently, with the needs of both boys and girls being put into deliberation. The mathematic curriculum should also be revised. Instead of just being structured in a way that suggests it is only training the learners in elementary school to be able to fit well in the later stages of education, the American mathematic curriculum from an early age should be one that is determined to enable the learners to handle the variety of problems they will encounter in life more proficiently; this is bearing in mind that a majority of learners in America drop out or leave school during or just after their elementary stage of education ( Bleche & southern Illinois University at Carbondale). The concerned boards of examinations should also go back to the drawing table and investigate why there is a high population of students performing poorly in the subject as compared to others; it could be the skills being tested that do not correlate to the subject matter taught in class or vice versa. If that is the case, there needs to be a paradigm shift in setting of the evaluation test to those that actually test what is expected to have been learnt.
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