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'I wouldn't send my children to a single-sex school'

Sex-segregated education leads to sexism and gender stereotyping, according to a leading psychologist.

Professor Diane Halpern, who has spent 30 years studying more than 1.5 million students, says there are no advantages from single-sex education.

“The idea of having single-sex schools is based on the faulty notion that they learn differently but all the underlying biology, neuroscience of learning, is the same,” said Professor Halpern.

In the all-female Mamamia editorial meeting today there was heated debate over the topic.

We are a group of women that celebrate women but we couldn’t all agree on the best schooling environment for ourselves or our children.

One Mamamia writer said the idea that we should separate out boys and girls for their entire childhood is “ridiculous”.

“The world is full of men. In fact, the world is run by men. So why the hell wouldn’t you want women to know how to learn and work and socialise and yes, compete, with men from an early age?

“And why the hell wouldn’t you want men to realise that women are strong and smart and capable, and not just the girls at the school down the road to be ogled at as they walk by?

“It does girls no favours to ‘protect’ them from having to deal with men until they are adults. Both sexes need to know that the other sex are not some kind of exotic, other-worldly species, but are just the people they are going to need to rub against all their lives, in all kinds of contexts.

“And guess what, they might actually LIKE them and become FRIENDS with them. Strong friendship groups of both sexes foster much healthier relationships between men and women as they both realise that the other are not objects or novelties, but living breathing humans of all stripes.”

Professor Halpern found that people become more stereotyped in their beliefs about other groups when they are segregated.

“We separate people because we believe we’re different and it increases the notion of differences,” she said.

The professor, from Claremont McKenna College in the US, said sexism and gender stereotyping came from boys and girls that had experienced single-sex education.

“People might think I only want my child to go to school with people the same race or same religion and certainly people do that, but they have to learn to get together with a diverse range of people.

“The world is much more diverse than it ever has been,” she said.

The American psychologist, mother and grandmother says she wouldn’t send her own children to single-sex schools because she wants them to have a full range of experiences and to be comfortable with all kinds of people.

“I wouldn’t send [my children] to single-race schools [either]. I want them to be prepared for getting along with all kinds of people.”

It all is about how these students will cope in the post-school world of adulthood.

“We don’t have sex segregated workplaces so why would we have sex segregated schools? It’s all too easy to say ‘boys are like this and girls are like that’, but it’s simply not true. Our goal is to help each individual develop to her or his full potential,” says Professor Halpern.

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However, advocates of single-sex education argue that girls do better in same-sex classes.

“Females alone appear to benefit from single-gender classes and they benefit significantly,” Professor Alison Booth wrote in The Sydney Morning Herald in 2014.

“Women in all-female classes are much more likely to gain a higher degree score and to get a higher-classification degree,” she added.

But Professor Halper says there is “no evidence”of an advantage – even just for women.

"It does girls no favours to 'protect' them from having to deal with men until they are adults." Image via iStock.

"We've often heard there is an advantage for women who went to all-girls school and are more likely in positions of leadership, but those numbers have not stood up," she says.

"I know that people have anecdotes, but anecdote in not the basis for public policy and for every anecdote that’s positive we can find you one that’s negative."

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