Single Sex Schools

December 1, 2009

Single sex education is supposed to help focus the students. Keep the distractions of the opposite sex out of the classroom. I’m beginning to think that this is not the way girls should be educated. After reading Unlocking the Clubhouse, i have realized that there are trends and stages of acceptance that girls go through during high school. I don’t think that I have ever questioned my capabilities until I reached university. The book said that girls in computer science courses in high school often question their ability because they compare themselves to the boys. In an all girl environment, I was at the top of my computer science class and enjoyed it. I used my peers as a reference of accomplishment. Then i got to university and realized just how intense the men in my program were about computer science. Many did in fact live and breath programming. It WAS/IS their hobby. For some that’s all they do. I found that incredibly intimidating. I felt like (and still do) I was way behind in what I was supposed to know. Yet curiously, I still did fairly well in my first year courses.

I know the advantages of single sex education. yes, there are no boys to distract in class. Girls don’t worry about their appearance. For the most part, most of the girls are outspoken and not as afraid of looking foolish or too smart. Great. I truly did enjoy that environment. I could be whoever i wanted to be without trying to impress anyone. However, it did not prepare me for what would happen in university. i can only remember one class where gender was discussed in high school. That was physics. Our physics teacher felt passionately about the gender divide among the sciences because she was exposed to it. However, at the same time it didn’t hit home that hard. Most of us didn’t concern ourselves with those issues because it didn’t seem prevailent in today’s world (since our teacher was slightly older). I still naively believed that things were fairly equal and that men knew how to behave around women. I wasn’t completely wrong, but i think that it would have been useful to have been more forewarned about the environment in which i was entering. This is where single sex environment did not help me.

Right from the first week of classes I realized that I did not know as much as other students. This scared me. I knew that I was going to be a relative nobody and I was prepared for that. I knew that there were going to be smarter student than me. But I didn’t know how common it was to have already written and hosted several websites, and written numerous useful applications outside of high school assignments. My high school education did prepare me for what I was going to learn and was able to maintain a decent mark. But, I still remember one of my first tutorials from a theory class that was supposed to be taken in the second semester (i thought I was smart enough to do it in the first). The first exercise we were supposed to pair up, so i paired up with the guy behind me and we started the exercise. Truth tables. In high school I had NEVER seen a truth table or any logical reasoning in those forms before. However, he knew exactly what to do and essentially did the whole thing. This was the first time I felt inferior and questioned my place. But I worked hard to understand that course, went to see the professor during office hours and managed to pass. At the time I thought this guy was really smart. He had confidence, and knew what he was doing. I’ve learned now, that he isn’t all he’s cracked up to be. Second year was a little bit rough for me. I continued to push myself and take third year courses. I worked hard in all my courses, but my marks dropped. Some of my friends (guys) struggled with me but, I knew that there were others managing just fine.

So did single-sex education help me in realizing what being a woman in computer science would be like? No. It may have led me to that path, but then once on it I think I had a more difficult time than I would have, had I been in a co-ed computer science classroom. I think that if my high school offered a course in gender equality, many girls would take it since I think it’s important to know and be aware of. Teaching a course like that would be beneficial to the girls as long as it doesn’t become a man-bashing course. It could even just involve reading important research done in the field and discussing it. It sure would have been useful to me to have read Unlocking the Clubhouse before entering university.

This is of course just a personal opinion full of my own anecdotes, but I think it’s something that should be considered. Especially for single-sex schools that are held on high prestige.