Single Sex Education: “Since life is not single-sex, should education be?”


In the transition from single-sex schools to UCD, Bridget Fitzsimons examines the effect of gender segregation on students.

College has always been a place to experience new things. From meeting new people, to learning strange subjects, we do all sorts of different things for the first time in UCD.

But what if your third-level education marks the very first time you’ve been in mixed education? For many students now entering UCD, this is the case.

“I think if you are kind of a partier, go to a single-sex school”

Many schools separate girls and boys from each other. Catholicism is traditionally far more in favour of same-sex education, which is evident in the fact that so many single-sex schools in Ireland are religious-based.

Those in favour of separating the sexes in education argue that teenagers are hugely distracted from their learning while in the classroom with the opposite sex. They also say that girls in single-sex education are more likely to participate in sports. Similarly, studies show that single-sex education tends to be more academically beneficial to girls than boys.

Those opposed feel that when girls and boys are educated separately, traditional gender roles are reinforced. Stories of girls’ schools not offering typically masculine subjects such as woodwork are commonplace. Boys’ schools refusing to teach traditionally feminine subjects such as home economics are equally frequent.

Single-sex education has also been criticised for facilitating poor social skills. When someone comes into mixed education for the first time at the age of eighteen, is this too late? Since life is not single-sex, should education be?

Similarly, in Ireland, there has been a rise in those attending both single-sex religious schools such as convents and exclusive fee-paying schools. Why do parents send their children to single-sex schools, and does it really make that much of a difference to their education? Does it stem from a belief in the power of same-sex education, or other reasons?

“I still felt that going to a same-sex school was detrimental to social development and set you back a few years”

Opinions seem to differ around the UCD campus. First year opinions range from indifferent to passionate. It all seems to be a matter of personal opinion, and the individual in question.

One female student questioned said that “I think if you’re kind of a partier, if you get distracted easily, go to a single-sex maybe because of the distractions from boys. But if you’re quiet and need to make new friends then mixed would be much better because then you get the experience of making friends with both boys and girls.”

There really seems to be no definitive answer to the question of which is best; mixed or single-sex education. While most are in agreement that single-sex education offers a more focused and less distracting learning environment, some of the students questioned would have far preferred to have been taught in mixed-sex schools.

One of the students questioned said that he felt same-sex education “socially set you back a few years.” This seems to be a bad sign, considering that adolescence is considered to be the time at which people come into their own both socially and as individuals.

However, the majority of those questioned said that their school was situated close to a school for the opposite sex, so socialising wasn’t hard at all. In the battle between single-sex education and mixed-sex education, there seems to be no clear winner at this stage.