The choice about whether to put your child in a single sex or mixed school is never a simple one. In most cases, the decision is based on sentiments, public opinion and parents’ personal school experience. Very few parents ever bother to do enough research about the different types of schools before deciding where to take their children. It must, however, be noted that education experts say the school one goes to can have a life time impact on them. Therefore parents ought to be more careful before deciding whether their children go to single sex or mixed schools.
What teachers think
Boniface Onyango, the Principal of Riviera High School, says a mixed school is without doubt better than a single sex school.
“Parents should always focus on constructing an educational environment that meets the social and intellectual needs for boys and girls,” Onyango explains.
He also warns that cutting off children from their colleagues of the opposite sex can only generate problems during later stages in their life.
“During the decisive stages, restricting children from other students of the opposite sex makes them miss out on several ideas that would eventually be helpful,” Onyango adds.
However, in an artice published in the UK’s Telegraph, Rhiannon Wilkinson, an educationist, says a ‘boy free’ environment stops girls from being held back by the opposite sex, who are known to mature slower.
She also suggested that single-sex boarding schools give learners relief and protection from the ‘highly sexualised world’ and allow them to ‘remain girls for longer.’
‘My wide educational experience in both mixed and girls’ schools has shown me clearly that girls are best served educationally in their teenage years in a boy-free work environment,’ she says.
As for Eliaza Ndayisabye, a disciplinary teacher at Mother Mary Complex, a single sex school, the choice should depend on what career path one hopes to pursue in future.
He believes that those who want to become nuns or priests are better off in single schools than in mixed schools where distractions are likely to be higher.
Those who share Ndayisaba’s view reason that because priests and nuns are supposed to live a celibate and humble life, single sex schools are a good training ground for them since they will not be under any pressure to impress the opposite sex that could easily culminate into promiscuity.
Ndayisaba also argues that single sex schools train students to respect the opposite sex.
“They tend to look at each other as brothers and sisters and not as objects of sex as is the case in mixed schools most times,” Ndayisaba explains.
Furthermore, Fredrick Karakire, a teacher from Umubano High School, believes that girls groomed from single schools are better placed to agitate for their rights in gender biased environments.
“Girls from single schools are usually confident hence taking up leadership roles and participating in sports actively. In a mixed school, boys many times overshadow the girls hence affecting their potential and performance,” Karakire argues.
But Charles Opiyo, the deputy Principal at Riviera Secondary School, disagrees with the idea of taking children to single schools since the world comprises of both men and women.
“At some point in life, students who went to single schools are going to find themselves out there in the world but because of isolation (from the opposite sex) and fitting in will be difficult,” Opiyo explains.
Meanwhile Grace Nyirahabizana, a teacher from Mother Mary Complex, says because most adolescent students like experimenting, they are better off in separate (single sex) schools.
“Most students spend much of their time watching all kinds of movies including those with sex scenes. Therefore when they go back to their mixed schools, there’s an urge to try out what they saw,” Nyirahabizana warns.
When it comes to parents, choosing a school from the two choices (single and mixed) remains a sticky issue.
Grace Murengerantwali, a parent, says taking her child to a single sex school has never crossed her mind.
“Learners from mixed schools are much more disciplined than those from single sex schools. The few cases of indiscipline are usually a result of teachers’ carelessness or indifference,” Murengerantwai says.
But John Muhonza cautions fellow parents against rushing to make decisions before giving it enough thought.
“As a parent you first have to weigh your child’s weaknesses, strengths and challenges before deciding whether to put him in a single sex or mixed school because it could affect their performance,” Muhonza explains.
Peter Hakizimana, a parent of G.S Remera Protestant, argues that students who went to single schools are likely to land into problems in the process of trying to compensate for the missed ‘opportunities’.
Other people believe competition is higher in mixed schools hence better results. Isaac Ngarambe, a parent whose child goes to Kigali Parents, says: “When girls or boys are alone, there is no motivation to work hard. Naturally, no one wants to perform poorly in front of the opposite sex so they will always work hard to get impressive grades.”
Jacklyne Iribagiza, a counsellor at Remera Martyrs Secondary School, says an environment for only one sex limits children from being exposed to many things about how the opposite sex works.
“If a girl for instance studies in a single sex school all through, they are likely to get pregnant before they are ready simply because they won’t know how to deal with relationships and sex. This is normally different in mixed settings,” Iribagiza says.
Students speak out
Sam Nanzi from Mother Mary Complex School prefers attending a single sex school because there are higher chances of concentrating on studies.
“I find it easier to focus on academics in an environment where there are fewer distractions,” Nanzi says. “Usually I don’t participate actively when in the presence of girls.”
For Christella Habiyaremye, a student at Kigali Christian School, a mixed school in Kibagabaga, the mixed environment has helped her both academically and socially.
“Most parents forget that their children will never be in a single sex society situation forever so the earlier they get used to that the better. Many people from single sex schools tend to find it hard to adapt to a new environment,” she says.
Indeed Rachael Mukashema, a student at Riviera High School, confirms Habiyaremye’s point.
“When I had just joined Riviera, I would never dare get close to the boys. With more interaction, however, I have come to understand them more and stopped generalizing them as ‘all bad’”.
Policy on mixed and single schools
However, the National Gender policy allows both boys and girls to have equal access to educational opportunities in a manner that guaranties satisfactory performance and output in all fields. It says both single sex and mixed schools must put in place measures that aim at enhancing opportunity for both sexes at all levels of education and institutions.
The reason why most parents take their daughters to single schools is to protect them from adolescent schoolmates who might distract them from their studies. However, I think it is okay to attend mixed schools especially when still young or in primary.
Jean Baptiste Ntawiheba
I would go for a mixed school because it enhances a healthy relationship between boys and girls. Students who study in single-sex schools tend to feel uncomfortable when with members of the opposite sex. I would only consider a single-sex school if it is one of the best performing in the country.
I really don’t care whether a school is single-sex or mixed. My desire is to take my children to schools that a relative or close friend went to. This way I am able to know a school’s track record in terms of discipline and academic performance.
Single-sex schools are not as bad as people think. If you do a survey between single-sex and mixed schools, you will find that single-sex schools perform better than the former. The only reason I would go for a mixed school is because most times they have strict rules and regulations.
There is a lot to learn from mixed schools. For instance some schools teach lifeskills such as cooking and baking to both girls and boys. Most parents seem not to mind about the schools their children go to but I think it is important to consult teachers and counsellors before making a decision.
Boys should never be left to study alone because they end up being very shabby and unhygienic. In mixed schools, the students are smarter and more disciplined. The fact that students don’t concentrate in mixed schools is not necessarily true. Anyone can pass or fail regardless of where they study from.