Why would anybody want to teach girls in a single sex setting? Aren't girls' schools quaint and out of touch? Aren't girls more likely to succeed in a coeducational setting? Are there advantages to educating girls in a single sex setting?
The answers to these and similar questions are varied, contradictory and subjective. Furthermore, the amount of research into girls' education is fairly limited. With those caveats in place let's explore some sources and resources for those special corners of the education world which are girls' schools.
Organizations which promote girls' schools
A good starting point for our exploration of girls' schools is the National coalition of Girls' Schools. Just like the International Boys' Schools Coalition is one of the major umbrella organizations for boys' schools, so the National Coalition of Girls' Schools is one of the major umbrella organizations for girls' schools around the globe.
The NCGS champions girls' schools. And it champions them better and more vigorously than any other organization I know. The NCGS encourages research on the education of girls. It offers an Advanced Professional Certificate in Girls’ Education. "This unique blended learning program, which includes a separate track for STEM and for humanities faculty, helps teachers gain the expertise needed to forge a contemporary approach to teaching girls. It is intended for girls’ school educators who have distinguished themselves in classroom teaching and learning and wish to both learn from experts in the girls’ school community and connect with fellow learners." [Source: NCGS] To me the phrase which stands out is "helps teachers gain the expertise to forge a conemporary approach to teaching girls." That's what it takes to empower girls. Away with the old stereotypes. Banish the ideas and notions of what girls cannot do. Teach girls to believe in themselves, to follow their passions and dreams. Empower them to be all they can be.
Another excellent source of information and research about educating girls can be found at the Center for Research on Girls at Laurel School. The Center offers more than a dozen monographs on teaching girls. You can download these in PDF format.
Girls' schools are appropriate for many girls.
As you read more about girls' schools, you begin to realize that their secret is that they are the right fit for many girls. Not all girls. But many. As a parent I am reassured to know that I have cutting edge, 21st century options for teaching my daughters. That most certainly was not the case when I was growing up in Montreal back in the 60s. Although as I reflect on girls who were my classmates at Westmount High, they were trail-blazers in their own right. Way back then. STEM was not a common acronym then but my classmates took Algebra II, Trigonometry, Physics and Chemistry courses and ran rings around the boys in our class. I now understand why those ladies were such fine students. It started in their homes. Their parents insisted that they get the best possible education they could get. And they did.
That is why all the information I have referenced above is so important for you to read. Let it affirm and guide you in your resolve that your daughter pursue whatever career she wants to pursue. No closed doors for her as long as you encourage and guide. Be proactive. You are the hidden but always present force behind your daughter's bright future.
Girls' schools teach girls.
Girls' schools offer an approach to learning and character building which is devoid of most of the distractions inherent in coeducation. Girls respond to an educational environment which encourages them to explore and to take risks without fear of destructive criticism.
So what is the difference between teaching boys and girls? A girls' school focuses on the needs of girls. A boys' school focuses on the needs of boys. It's really that simple. When you are teaching only girls, there is no need to adapt your teaching style to accommodate different constituencies. Single sex schools provide teaching which centers on the specific needs of boys or girls.
The teaching in a girls' school is girl-centric. The focus is on the needs of girls, the way they react to situations and the way they process information. Teachers in a girls' school undersand girls. The staff understand girls. Everybody in the school community understands girls. That's just the way it is.
The key here is focus. There are few distractions from the task at hand - whatever that may be - as there inevitably are in a coeducational setting. As Sugata Mitra points out in his TED talk Child Driven Education, children love to learn. They love to figure things out. Especially girls. A girls' school provides a setting which allows girls to explore their limits intellectually, spiritually and physically under the experienced, skillful guidance of teachers and staff who understand girls and how to teach them.
Unfortunately I think that all too often girls grow up with stereo-typical role models. You know, being a nurse is OK, being an engineer is not. Girls' schools open up new possibilities. They inspire. They build confidence. They make your daughter comfortable with herself. They inculcate an attitude of 'I can do' in a positive manner.
Single sex schools were the norm decades ago before coeducation became fashionable. Now they are very much the exception. That is a good thing for parents who are looking for an advantage not found in a coeducational setting: an educational approach totally focused on the needs of their daughters.
As Judith A. Drew expressed it so beautifully in her poem "A Daughter is Born"
Encircle your child with love
Offer your hand to guide her
Shower her with tenderness
Shelter away her fears
May she look for sunshine when
There seems to be clouds
May she take a step further to
Find the best in people and life
Choosing a girls' school means you will have chosen a less common approach to educating your daughter. You will be pleased with the difference that choice makes. Girls' schools accept the fact that they are not for everyone. But they pride themselves on being able to accomplish things which make a difference for the students who opt for this educational approach.
The social aspects
But what about boys? Won't students in an all girls' school miss interacting with boys? Girls' schools typically have arrangements with nearby boys' schools for social activities. Your daughter will have ample opportunity for dances and other activities at the end of the week and on weekends. Properly chaperoned, of course.
More on girls' schools
Read Elizabeth Lee's reply to a New York Times article. She is the model of brevity as she gets right to the essence of what girls' school do.
Several years ago I wrote a monograph entitled The Benefits of Attending a Girls' School You might find that helpful.
Balancing the Equation: Where are Women and Girls in Science, Engineering, and Technology? offers a thoughtful assessment of girls' progress in STEM.
Girls' schools are worth a careful review. As you explore options for your daughter's education, consider including a girls' school on your short list of schools. It may just turn out to be the right fit.