The Pros and Cons of Coeducational Schools

     As the values of society change, so also do the goals and objectives of education. A formal education system necessarily reflects the values of society, because its very purpose is to implement those things that the general community considers to be important and valuable. The system must change, therefore, if the general community changes with regard to what is and what is not appropriate. This seems to be particularly relevant to the question as to whether coeducational or same-sex schools are in the best interest of students.

     A century ago, no one would have had much doubt about which system was better, particularly at the high school level. Moral values were clearly defined, and to most people, it seemed to be appropriate to separate boys and girls for their formal schooling. We can see a reflection of this way of thinking in today’s world when we observe Muslim communities in North America as well as in the Middle East. Traditional Christian communities also, such as the Amish and the Doukabors, continue to cling to the old values in their approach to education. For them, segregation by gender is the norm.

     Most public elementary schools in North America have traditionally been coeducational and this has been seen as beneficial to young children during their early years. Parents who wanted their children to attend a gender-segregated school have usually had no choice but to enroll them in a private school that could offer them that option. Until relatively recently, some authorities, such as those responsible for Catholic schools, have tended to view gender segregation as being the norm at the high school level and coeducation as being a daring innovation. For most of the past century, however, public coeducational high schools have been available for anyone who wanted them.

     Societal values today are very different from those of a century ago. Almost everyone today believes that coeducation is by far the best choice for students in their teens, because it recognizes that the two genders live, work, and play together in the real world. Only by being together can young adolescents learn to appreciate and respect others of the opposite sex, and by studying and socializing together on a daily basis, they learn how men and women develop appropriate roles in society both as parents and as useful and productive citizens.

     Still, not everyone shares this point of view. Many parents today prefer that their teenaged children attend gender-segregated schools. Although they may recognize that there are advantages to coeducation, they believe they can provide most of these benefits at the family level through community-based activities. It is the disadvantages of a formal coeducation system that concern them. Teen-age pregnancy is a reality, and many parents believe that if their sons and daughters make strong friendships at school with members of their own sex, they will be in a better position to avoid this problem outside of school hours. They also believe that students will be more likely to concentrate on their academic duties when they are not faced with the distraction of male-female relationships that inevitably preoccupy the minds of adolescents.

     Societal values continue to develop and adjust, but it is unlikely that there will be any significant change in attitude towards the issue of coeducational schools. No doubt, there will always be a choice for parents who feel strongly about same-sex schools, and the community will be obliged to accommodate their needs. This may be only through individual private school education in some cases, however, and that may well preclude the option for some parents. Nevertheless, society’s needs as a whole should be considered. Public education is for the benefit of all citizens, and minority preferences will likely be accommodated in the future just as they have been in the past.