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Co-ed schools better reflect the society we want to live in

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We have been learning how the curriculum attempts to develop learners’ ethical capabilities to explore what it means for both an individual and society to live well.

How it seeks to develop empathy for and understanding of others, and the importance of supporting diversity for a cohesive community. How it builds understanding of how relationships are developed, and how to establish and maintain respectful relationships.

When we are divided along gender lines, how can we truly develop these values and attributes in our learners?

Some supporters of single-sex schooling argue separating boys and girls increases student achievement and academic interest. This is based on notions that gender differences affecting education are biological, causing boys and girls to learn differently.

Yet such views have been refuted by neuroscientists as pseudoscience and dismissed as false claims holding “great sway among educators”. A meta-analysis of 184 studies representing 1.6 million students from 21 nations found single-sex schooling had a negligible effect on educational performance, with little evidence of an advantage for single-sex schooling for girls or boys.

A better approach would be to know your students and how they learn – rather than grouping them into pre-existing categories. Differentiated teaching responds to individual students’ needs, rather than making broad-based assumptions.

Advocates of girls’ only education suggest single-sex schooling benefits girls by providing a space to challenge gender stereotypes. They argue girls’ only schools offer an environment where girls’ distinctive learning needs and preferences can be addressed – recognising that separating girls from boys has little impact alone – and that beneficial results flow only if girls-only education is provided alongside “self-conscious and sustained attention to girls’ learning needs and preferences”.

While I agree with and encourage this approach to individualised learning and differentiation, I would highlight that this can and indeed does happen in co-educational schools. I observed this myself during my PhD research in two co-educational Melbourne schools. Sustained attention to all students’ needs benefits everyone. It promotes a more inclusive approach to schooling overall, creating a space where everyone can belong.

Some of my pre-service teachers will put their learning into practice in single-sex schools. Others will do the same in co-educational schools. Those in co-educational settings will be able to create more meaningful learning experiences for their students. After all, the Victorian Curriculum builds more than academic capacity in students, it also provides a framework for ethical, social and emotional learning.

When significant sections of the community are excluded from participating in single-sex schools, how can we promote inclusivity, belonging and living well in those same spaces with authenticity?

Co-educational schooling more readily reflects the diverse liberal democratic society in which we live. A society where we value inclusivity and social cohesion over increasing polarity and division.

A society where genders are not segregated.

Leanne Higham is a lecturer in education at La Trobe University.

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