Thursday, July 9, 2009

Single sex school anyone?

Lately the debate has surfaced again about the merits of single sex setting for students in New Zealand. The argument is boys learn differently to girls. Another starting bit of statistics that surfaced was that boys were achieving less than girls in national examinations.

I went to an all-girls school -- a Convent to be precise. Did I learn better because I was among girls? I don't think so. Back in my days, the business of education rested in the hands of missionaries. In Klang the popular schools were La Salle (Catholic, ACS (Anglican), High School (hm, I am not sure what denomination this school is but my dad and all my brothers went to this school which was an all-boys' school). For girls' schoool, we had Convent (Catholic), MGS (Methodist) and Bukit Kuda and Raja Zarina.

I learnt one myth growing up (I call this a myth because there has been no statistics to back this) -- girls at Convent are the most "wild" and boy crazy. I never dated a single guy until I was at University. I left home at 17, and my parents let me loose in a world called Canada where I could do almost anything under the sky and they would not know. My parents gave me freedom. They also gave me a solid grounding in the value of not failing, and not doing anything immoral.

In University, the co-ed environment showed me many facets of life. Students snogging at every corner...There was an ease with which the students mixed. I mixed with male students like I have always done, although I was raised in a Convent eeducation. My business was to study, get my degree. That was the focus. Boys? They were by-the-by. They were part of the picture, not the centre, as many moms are prone to be afraid of.

So as the NZ educators go through this process of debating the merits of co-ed or single sex education, I know Hubby and I have made the right decision -- that of sending Princess to a co-ed school. She will start off in an all girls environment from years 7 till 10, and from years 11 till 13 merge with boys in the school. I am cool with that. Hubby and I decided on a school that seemed less academically-skewed and more holistic in their expectations of children -- that your personal is required and the outcomes are less important. I hope Princess gives the blokes a good run for their money.

Of course I am hoping Princess will not get distracted by the boys in her class by the time she reaches year 11. But then, distraction is natural. Shielding a kid from distraction is not natural. Building an artificial environment is definitely not natural.

I am sure that single sex schools can illustrate many merits of their system. I share the view of Nae Nae College Principal -- who was on CloseUp this week -- saying as a nation, NZ's challenge is not about gender-based education, but the inequality in achievements in society. He is in a decile 3 co-ed school (based on the population's socio economic topography), pitched against a decile 10 Auckland Grammar Boys. The Nae Nae College principal's message was this, the school is there to give students a set of life skills, not just academic. I agree.

As an Asian parent, I tend to get very excited about academic achievements. I am learning to let go, a little, and to learn to absorb a different set of values -- that learning is not about regurgitating facts but about being able to look an a situation, a problem, and take it head on -- giving it one's best...the outcomes -- they are often determined by those who try the hardest and not the smartest or richest or ones that go to a certain type of school.