Girls-only classes spark concerns over children’s social development

By Zhao Yusha Source:Global Times Published: 2016/10/23 19:18:39

Girls make pottery in Nanjing Huiwen Girls' Middle School on August 31. Photo: CFP

Girls make pottery in Nanjing Huiwen Girls' Middle School on August 31. Photo: CFP

The re-emergence of single-sex schools in recent years has been slammed by some education experts, as they may affect how well children are prepared for adult life.

Nanjing Huiwen Girls' Middle School, the only girls' school in Nanjing, East China's Jiangsu Province that opened on August 31 and currently has 100 students in two classes, Qian Min, head of the headmaster's office in Renmin Middle School told the Global Times on Sunday.

In 2013, Nanjing Renmin Middle School and Jinling Middle School joined hands to pilot girls-only classes, the Modern Express newspaper reported.

Qian said that female students can choose when they enroll in Renmin Middle School whether to go into mixed-gender classes or girls-only classes.

The girls' classes have a curriculum designed specifically for girls, such as human biology lessons, female leadership, public speaking, and courses like calligraphy, flower arrangement and cooking to build up students' "traditional virtues," said news site china.cn.

Li, a student at Huiwen, was worried that classes could be boring without boys when she decided to attend the Girls' class. But she says the class is more friendly than the classes she was in before as girls are "more careful and understand each other better," according to china.cn.

The school did a survey of the public's opinions of girls' schools in 2012, which showed that 70 percent approve of single-sex schools, while 63 percent  of respondents believe that girls' schools can boost girls' confidence and independence. Yet respondents with a higher education are generally suspicious about this kind of school, china.cn reported.

Mixed reaction

Experts also cast doubt on the benefits of single-sex classes, saying they do not socially prepare students for adulthood.

Peng Xiaohui, a sexologist at Wuhan's Central China Normal University, told the Global Times on Thursday that students at single-sex schools may have problems associating with the opposite sex in the future as a result of their lack of contact with the opposite sex during puberty.

A study from London University's Institute of Education suggests that men who attended single-sex schools are more likely to get divorced or separated from their partners than students who went to mixed schools, according to the London-based Independent.

Peng also said students in single-sex schools are more anxious than their peers in mixed schools.

But Qian said that girls' schools can help avoid gender discrimination and create a better learning environment.

"Many parents, even students themselves believe a Girls' potential can be be developed to the maximum as teachers teach according to girls' cognitive rules; create a more suitable environment for girls and give them more study opportunities without boy's competition," said Qian.

Rising trend

In recent years, single-sex schools are emerging across China.

In 2012, Shanghai No.8 Middle School set up all boys' classes, and in 2011, Zhuhai Girls' Middle School started to enroll students from Guangdong Province, Hong Kong and Macau, which all sparked wide public discussion, media reported.

"The return of single-sex schools is a regression," said Peng, explaining that China had single-sex schools before.

Only boys were allowed to go school in China before the 20th century. So girls' schools were set up to let girls receive education, as close association between the sexes was forbidden at that time, said Peng.

Ran Naiyan, a research fellow with the Beijing Academy of Educational Sciences, told the Global Times the reviving of single-sex schools is also influenced by some Western countries.

Single-sex schools are relatively successful in countries like the UK and the US because they have more sophisticated management experiences.

However, according to the UK's Independent Schools Council annual census, the number of boys' schools dropped from 230 to just above 100 between 1994 and 2014. Girls' schools declined from 230 to around 150, the Telegraph reported in 2014.

Ran said that parents send their children to single-sex schools to protect them from negative social influences.

"Teenagers are vulnerable to bad influences, so many parents believe that it is safer to separate them from the opposite sex, so they won't be distracted by each other," said Ran.

According to a survey conducted by China Family Planning Association in 2015, 45.6 percent of respondents said they had their first sexual experience when they were under 18 years old.

However, Peng said that it is inappropriate to cut children off from the opposite sex simply to avoid these problems.

"You can not learn swimming by avoiding water," said Peng, adding that one can only learn how to associate with the opposite sex by experience.

Ran suggested it will help to separate boys and girls in certain classes, such as physical education classes. "But dividing them completely for years, may be not a good idea."


Newspaper headline: Boys not allowed


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