CO-ED SCHOOLS – WHY NOT?

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When I was in Form 1 at my old convent school, I had innocently asked a nun, who was leading a PSD lesson (very credible indeed), if we could have joint activities with boys’ schools.

It wasn’t that I was a promiscuous child, thankfully. I just happened to be a tomboy who was keen to socialise with little versions of my dad. Also, one of those boys was bound to have a Playstation, and if I bribed him with my mum’s cooking, he’d let me go over to his house for a Tekken 3 sesh.

But no. The mere thought of young girls being in the presence of prepubescent penises put the frights up the nuns’ petticoats. They reacted as if I had suggested bringing Satan himself along to the next charity bake sale.

I’m old enough to buy my own Playstation now. I’m also old enough to realise how ridiculous it is for adolescents to be segregated throughout most of their education. Luckily, the Ministry of Education decided to nip this silliness in the bud in 2013, with the introduction of mixed classes at St Clare College in Pembroke. This then progressed to its implementation in other state schools in Malta. What’s that bright light I see yonder? Oh look, it’s the 21st century.

During my years as a teacher, the best classes I taught had been mixed gender. There’s a positive and democratic energy about them. There’s a harmonious unity that, as a teacher, is a joy to bask in. There’s a lot less tension and frustration with each other when compared to single-sex classes. There’s ying and yang. And d’you know why?

Because it’s normal.

The sexes were never meant to be separated. It goes against nature. It is simply not natural to congregate a large group of the same gender within the confinements of a school for the first few 13 years of their lives, with very little or no chance of interaction with someone of the opposite sex. Not only that, but it’s an opportune breeding ground for sexism, naivety and gender discrimination.

When I was still a student at the above-mentioned convent school, all our teachers were female. Leaving aside the argument that there must’ve been some serious gender discrimination going on during staff recruitment, the only positive thing about this absolute female majority is that there was equal footing between teachers and students. There wasn’t a gender struggle per se.

The significance of this dynamic hit me years later when I started teaching at a boys’ school which employed both male and female teachers. You therefore had 400 male students, male teachers and administrative priests outnumbering 50 female teachers. This would’ve been absolutely fine, had there not been an underlying attitude being cultivated by the authorities themselves.

Only male prefects could truly enforce discipline. The boys seemed to control their behaviour only in the presence of a male teacher or a priest. A female teacher could only gain control of a disruptive classroom if she roped in one of these for support. If she took the matter further, she’d get the blame for not having a sense of classroom management. To most of the boys, a woman’s authority was arbitrary and a bit of a joke, especially if she was young. All she was to them was a pretty token to bash around when things got boring. This attitude was given carte blanche by her superiors, and she was deemed as such an insignificant accessory, that some fifth formers felt entitled to verbally degrade her in a sexual manner within and outside the school walls, simply because they knew they’d get away with it.

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It was only after 6 torturous months at this institution that I realised that what these boys lacked was social interaction with girls their age. Had they spent previous years sharing a classroom with girls, their attitude would’ve been different. The young men would’ve known that a woman can also be another student, another classmate, another equal, another human being who deserves respect. I needed my gender to represent me in that classroom just to prove that I am worthy of authority.

My argument is strengthened by my experiences at sixth form. My first male comrades hailed from co-ed schools, and had spent most of their primary and secondary education sharing a classroom with an equal amount of boys and girls. Most of the boyfriends I’ve had are also products of co-ed, and all of them had ease in approaching me and making conversation, both platonic and amorous. Some of my other friends who came from same-sex schools however, were a bit more apprehensive, as it would’ve possibly been their first time speaking to a girl of their age. Some also had different outlooks to the co-ed lads, and they were a bit more socially awkward.

The same could be said for some of the girls, who might as well have run around college gasping, ‘Ah!! Penis! Run away- No wait, I’m curious! Is it meant to go inside of me… Oh shit, I think I’m pregnant!’

Something that had struck me when I was at the boys’ school were the perceptions that the students had about mixed classes. I once brought it up as a discussion, and I was surprised by the boys’ reasons for actually wanting co-ed. They made suggestions such as, ‘If we had girls in the class, we wouldn’t fight as much’ and ‘Why shouldn’t girls be allowed to attend this college?’. They wanted inclusion and equality as much as I did. Then, one particular boy had piped up and said, ‘Imma li tkun imħalta l-klassi hi xi ħaga tas-sinjuri‘ (‘Being in a mixed class is only for the rich.’)

So not only are we creating unnatural (I cannot stress this word enough) dynamics within our students, we’re also breeding a bizarre notion of class differentiation. It’s especially ironic that same-sex boarding schools in the UK are seen as an elitist privilege.

Co-ed should not be exclusively reserved to those who can afford it. There is some truth in the boy’s logic. If having both genders in a classroom is such a healthy privilege, then why can’t the rest of the island have it?

Would you want your kids to attend co-ed? Why?

Let us know in the comment section below.

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