WE SHOULD MINGLE: Single-sex schools may have some short-term academic benefits, but pupils who attend co-educational schools, such as those gathering on a schools grounds, are better off socially in the long-term, a study suggests. Picture: Bongiwe Mchunu

Keeping girls and boys apart in the classroom may be socially harmful to them, according to several educationists.

Despite extensive research suggesting that both sexes do better academically and socially when they learn separately, educationists say mixed classes often adapt better after school’s over.

“Social benefits of co-education outweigh the so-called ‘academic benefits’ that come with single-sex schools,” said the co-ordinator of Equal Education, Doron Isaacs.

“Single-sex education often presumes that pupils are boys and girls and leaves out the option of pupils who are ambiguous about their sexual orientation. Doing this does not do away with the fact that there are boys who are comfortable around girls and girls who are more comfortable around boys,” Isaacs said.

The number of single-sex schools has escalated in South Africa.

This is especially marked in the Western Cape, with a growing number of schools choosing to separate boys and girls because of the perception that there are key differences in the way they are able to learn and cope with their level of emotional maturity.

“An environment where boys and girls learn to get on, as in the real world, is what we should be promoting in our schools. Separating people will not help reach gender equality and integration, even though it may perhaps help improve academic performance,” said Graeme Bloch, of the Wits Public and Development Management school.

Gauteng was the top-performing province with the highest matric pass rate in the country. It achieved a 78.6 percent pass rate in last year’s national senior certificate exams. Of the top 20 schools, only four were single-sex schools.

According to a report in the Cape Times on February 1, however, Western Cape came second, with 76.8 percent, and most of the 27 pupils on the merit list of the top-performing pupils were girls.

And on the list of the top 10 performing schools in the province in the 2010 final exams, half of the schools were girls’ schools.

Of the other five schools, four were boys’ schools and only one, Westerford High School, was co-educational.

However, the head of Wits School of Education, Professor Ruksana Osman, said there had been little research conducted on this subject in South Africa.

“Last year’s results are not enough to determine whether single-sex schools are better than co-educational schools.

“Boys and girls do well in schools that are well-organised, with teachers who are well-prepared, where parents are supportive of learning and where principals take teaching and learning seriously,” she said.

According to Osman, parents need to consider other serious issues when picking a school for their children, rather than focusing only on gender.

“Parents should think about whether the school they are selecting has strong leadership, teachers who are accountable and whether they, as parents, are willing to participate in the life of the school. Schooling is a joint enterprise between home, school and community.”

A mother of three, Kerosha Govender said she preferred single-sex schools for her children, who were currently in primary school.

“I went to a single-sex school and I think it was the best. All my children will be going through it as well.”

A former pupil of a single-sex school, Katlego Nkechi, said: “We all did so well academically and I’m grateful for that. However, some of us got caught in the worst competitive behaviours of a sexist patriarchal society, such as an overemphasis on sports, bullying – even a lot of drinking and rowdy behaviour,” Nkechi said. - Sunday Argus