Throughout history, we have seen how different aspects of living in society have evolved in different directions. Values, concepts, cultures, ways of seeing the world, philosophies or political systems have been born, modified and altered. The way of educating is not an exception, generally moving towards an egalitarian educational practice that aims to give everyone the same opportunities regardless of race, condition, age or sex.

With regard to the latter, at present in most schools and educational institutions in our country, boys and girls receive a quality education in centres where they are trained in mixed classrooms where both sexes are present, whether we are talking about public or private institutions. However, there are still some schools that defend education separated by sexes . In this article we are going to analyse what this type of education is, what it defends and the existing positions in this respect.

Gender-segregated education: what is it and what does it aim to do?

We call gender-segregated education, also called differentiated education or segregated education, a type of educational model which is characterized by the defense of the provision of a separate education for the members of each sex . In other words, we are dealing with a model that implies that children are educated with children and girls with girls, without mixing in the classroom.

Formal education separated by sex is not a recent educational model, but appears from the moment that schooling becomes compulsory for both sexes. Even before compulsory schooling, there was a differentiated education, in the case of women, focused on acquiring the culture and skills necessary to successfully carry out domestic tasks. It was not until 1783 that compulsory schooling for girls began in Spain, although with a differentiated curriculum focused on traditional gender roles.

This differentiation would be maintained through the various laws that emerged throughout the ages, forming male and female schools. In fact, mixed education did not appear in our country until 1901, although differences continued to exist and most of the education would be maintained as separated by sexes. Likewise, the different historical events and dictatorships would mean a series of advances and setbacks in the search for mixed education . In fact, it was not until the General Education Law of 1970 that curricular equality and real co-education were recognized.

Today, most of the West has left this model behind, using an educational model in which mixed education for boys and girls prevails. However, there are still different schools that keep education separate by sex. Although in many cases we are faced with a paradigm that is followed in more traditionalist and religious schools, the truth is that sectors have also appeared that defend it from a perspective that claims to seek the maximum level of development of both sexes.

Below we will see some of the views taken into account both by those in favour of this type of model and those against it .

Positions in favor of this type of education

Those who defend education that is separated by sex, who tend to call it differentiated education, propose that this type of education provides more educational possibilities and they take advantage of the fact that it implies an educational model to which parents who wish to do so can adhere .

Another point that is usually added is the concept that with separate education, it is possible to make a differentiated assessment and action on specific problems of each sex and to attend to the different pace of development presented by children. This could also make it easier for education to adapt to specific rates of development and to generate fewer drop-outs and school failures, and facilitate academic success by adapting education to the developmental characteristics of each gender.

They propose that each sex sees its own pace of development accepted and validated, so that it is not constrained by the perception of differences with the other sex. They also mention this type of education not as something sexist that seeks the submission of women to men but as a way to emancipate them.

It is also often said that in mixed education a specific rhythm and way of acting towards all the students is required without taking into account the differences not only in development but also in the way of behaving . It is considered that the boy tends to be more energetic, competitive and moved while the girl tends to a higher level of discipline and verbal and emotional reasoning.

From this position it is also believed that it is common for many girls to feel uneasy about the high level of agitation and activity of boys, while boys tend to see their partners’ biological maturation level as higher than their own and are also penalized for their level of activation.

It has also been observed that in differentiated education there tends to be a lower level of eating disorders and body self-image problems, as well as lower levels of distraction on the part of both sexes.

Unsegregated gender positions

The positions against gender-segregated education, which often call it segregated education , maintain on the other hand that the separation of both sexes in different classrooms makes it difficult to adapt to the real world. In fact, in everyday life students live and work with people of both sexes on a continuous basis, and the segregation of the sexes in the school environment makes it difficult for them to get used to working together.

Likewise, coeducation or mixed education implies the existence of equal opportunities between both sexes, being educated in the same way and with the same options. Segregated education implies limiting these options and the generation of two different classes of student, not all students benefiting from the same education.

The validation of possible differentiated levels of development may erroneously attribute lesser capacity to one or the other in certain types of studies or learning. There is a risk of stereotyping students , and also of not taking into account individual differences within the same gender.

They also take into account that many of the differences classically attributed to sex differences actually stem from differentiated ways of educating or considering the figure of men and women, and that the biological differences that do exist and seem to make some skills easier to acquire and/or dominate by a certain sex are not greater than those existing between members of the same sex. With regard to individual differences, from the point of view of co-education, the specific particularities and needs of each student should be taken into account without considering that they are due solely to the biological sex with which they were born.

In addition, there would also be a positive effect at the value level. Being educated together implies that boys and girls can develop attitudes such as the acceptance of different perspectives and ways of doing things, promotes tolerance and facilitates the existence of respect and equality between men and women.

The current situation

As we have seen, gender-segregated education is a controversial educational model and has its defenders and detractors. In Spain, the Constitutional Court has recently determined that this educational model is constitutional and that can be paid for at a public level , and it is offered to those families who wish to do so. This is not an isolated case: in different European countries (for example, the United Kingdom and France) and on the American continent (in Canada and the United States) this educational model is applied in different centres that are not necessarily private. The same is true in Africa, South America, Asia and Australia.

However, at present this type of education is still rejected by a large part of the population and of Western society as a model based on traditional gender roles, which generates inequalities and differences between the sexes, which is not very adaptive, not very representative of the real world and which facilitates a lack of understanding and acceptance of differences and tolerance of diversity.

Bibliographic references:

  • Alcazar, J.A. and Martos, J.L. (2005). Some reflections on gender-differentiated education. Navarra: Eunsa Astrolabio.
  • From the Order, M. (2017). Analysis of differentiated education in a context of egalitarian educational policies. Faculty of Philosophy and Letters. University of Cadiz.
  • Calvo, M. (2005). Boys with boys, girls with girls. Córdoba: Almuzara.
  • Subirats, M. (2010): Co-education or segregated school? An old and persistent debate. Journal of the Association for the Sociology of Education 3 (1): 146.