Single-Gender Education: A Case Made? – IELTS Academic Reading Passage

A All modern democracies, instilled as they are with the ethics of freedom and equality of the sexes, nevertheless offer the option of single-sex education. This separates the genders into their own classrooms, buildings, and often schools. Traditionally, women had to fight hard and long to achieve equal opportunities in education, and the single-gender controversy is mostly in relation to them. The question is whether this educational system advances or retards their cause, and there are supporters on both sides, each convinced that the case is made.

B Given that the word ‘segregation’ has such negative connotations, the current interest in single-gender schooling is somewhat surprising. In the same way that a progressive society would never consider segregation on the basis of skin colour, income, or age, it seems innately wrong to do this on gender. Yet in the real world and the society in which we live, segregation of some sort happens all the time. Clubs inevitably form – for example, of clerical workers, of lawyers, of the academically gifted, and of those skilled in music or the arts. Exclusionary cliques, classes, and in-groups, are all part of everyday life. Thus, it may simply be an idealistic illusion to condemn single-gender settings on that basis alone, as do many co-educational advocates.

C This suggests that single-gender education must necessarily be condemned on other grounds, yet the issue is complicated, and research often sinks into a morass of conflicting data. and. occasionally, emotional argument. Thus, one study comes out with strong proof of the efficacy of single-gender schooling, causing a resurgence of interest and positive public sentiment, only to be later met with a harshly-titled article. ‘Single-Sex Schooling: The Myth and the Pseudoscience’, published and endorsed by several respected magazines. Similarly, the arguments on both sides have apparent validity and often accord, on the surface at least, with common sense and personal observation. What then can parents do?

D Proponents of separating the genders often argue that it promotes better educational results, not only in raw academic scores but also behaviour. The standard support for this is the claim of innate gender differences in the manner in which boys and girls learn and behave in educational settings. Separation allows males to be taught in a ‘male way’ and in accordance with the ‘male’ developmental path, which is said to be very different to the female one. Such claims demand hard evidence, but this is difficult to come by. since statistics are notoriously unreliable and subject to varying interpretations.

E Of course, one of the key factors that leads to superior performance at single-gender schools is often the higher quality of the teachers, the better resources at hand, and the more motivated students, often coming as they do from wealthier or more privileged backgrounds. Single-gender schools are often the most prestigious in society, demanding the highest entry marks from their new students, who, in turn, receive more deference and respect from society. When taking these factors into account, large-scale studies, as well as the latest findings of neuroscientists, do not support the claims of superior results or persistent gender differences, respectively. Those who make such claims are accused of emphasising favourable data, and drawing conclusions based more on anecdotal evidence and gender stereotyping.

F Yet the single-sex educationalists come out with other positives. One of the most common is that girls are free from the worry of sexual harassment or negative behaviour originating from the presence of boys. Girls are said to develop greater self-confidence, and a preparedness to study subjects, such as engineering and mathematics, which were once the exclusive province of males. Conversely, boys can express a greater interest in the arts, without the possible jibe, ‘That’s a girls’ subject’. But logically, one senses such stereotyping could equally come in single-gender settings, since it is the society outside of school, with all its related expectations, which has the greatest influence.

G Among this welter of conflicting argument, one can, at least, fall back on one certainty – that the real world is co-gendered, and each side often misunderstands the other. Supporters of co-education argue that positive and co-operative interaction between the genders at school reduces such divisions by de-emphasising gender as a factor of concern. In theory, stereotypes are broken down, and inclusion is emphasised, providing benefits for society as a whole. But such sentiments, admittedly, do sound as if we are retreating into self-promotional propaganda. In other words, these statements are just glib and unreal assertions, rather than a reflection of what actually happens in the co-educational classroom.

H The key point is whether the interaction in co-educational settings is indeed positive and co-operative. Some would say it could equally be the opposite, and surely it must occasionally be so (if we abandon the rosy picture painted in the previous paragraph). But I would say that that interaction, whether good or bad, whether academically enhancing or retarding, still constitutes education, and of a vital nature. It presents exactly the same subset of challenges that students, male or female, will ultimately have to deal with in the real world. This is the most important point, and would determine my choice regarding in which educational setting I would place my children.

Questions 14-19
Reading Passage Two has eight paragraphs, A-H.

Choose the correct heading for Paragraphs B-E and G-H from the list of headings.

List of Headings
i Another argument in favour
ii Conflicting evidence
iii Negatives are positives
iv An emotional argument
v Does it help or not?
vi Looking at the other side
vii A counter-argument
viii It’s happening anyway
ix The problems with genders
x An argument in favour


Paragraph A v

Paragraph F i

14. Paragraph B
15. Paragraph c
16. Paragraph D
17. Paragraph E
18. Paragraph G
19. Paragraph H

Questions 20-24
Complete the sentences with the correct ending, A-E.

A have some strong views
B think boys and girls are similar
C often have idealistic views
D are surprising in some ways
E often receive much respect

20. Neuroscientists
21. The magazines
22. Students from single-gender schools
23. People in society
24. Supporters of co-education

Questions 25-26
Choose the correct letter, A, B, C, or D.

25. The author believes co-education has
A clear statistical support.
B less stereotyping.
C much positive interaction.
D generally lower-quality teaching (compared to single-gender schools).

26. The author believes
A single-gender schooling is better.
B co-educational schooling is preferable.
C we cannot say which sort of schooling is better.
D more evidence is needed.