Are pupils attending State Schools benefitting from co-education? Definitely not.

On Sunday, 2 January, Manuel Delia wrote an article about the recent change in the Ministry of Education, where Dr. Clifton Grima replaced Dr. Justyn Caruana as Minister of Education. In his article, Delia argued that the Labour Government has done nothing good in education except for introducing gender-mixed co-education in all government schools.

This reform was carried out when Evarist Bartolo was Minister of Education. Manuel Delia defended this change on the ground that it is progressive and therefore saw it as a defeat for what he considers to be our conservative system. Anything conservative for Manuel Delia is wrong. Now, the only non-co-ed schools that remain in Malta are the Church Schools.

This is how Manuel Delia defined this reform:

Evarist Bartolo boldly went where no minister had gone before, mixing girls and boys in secondary schools. After that great accomplishment, he perched himself on a twig of precarious survivalism while the government he belonged to sank in the corrupt quagmire of its own making.

But was this really a great accomplishment? On what statistical and/or other researched information did Manuel Delia reach such a conclusion? A brief history of co-education in our state school proves him wrong.

Co-education was present in government schools at a primary level but not at the secondary level. Therefore, Bartolo’s reform meant introducing co-education at all stages in  State Schools. 

Co-education started out as a pilot project at St Clare’s College,  a Secondary School in Pembroke, in September 2013, a few months after a Labour victory. After only three months, this pilot project had already been classified as a success! On what grounds was it deemed successful? How can anyone involved in education declare scientifically that a project is successful after such a short trial?

Undoubtedly, at a propaganda level, it was a success and the Government could assess that there was not going to be any resistance from parents. Therefore, the Ministry for Education could continue with its reform including those related to gender.

Thus, according to the press release issued on 14th January 2014, there had been widespread consultation that indicated that secondary schools should become co-educational together with the Middle School concept. Hence, the new co-ed system was operated in all state colleges at the beginning of the scholastic year 2014-15.

For Manuel Delia and his liberal friends, this was something that had to be implemented. Nonetheless, I would like to point out some of the problems that teachers have been facing since the co-ed system was introduced. These problems go to show that a 3-month pilot scheme is not sufficient to produce the required data to allow proper analysis.

It would be interesting to ask Mr. Evarist Bartolo whether he had actually studied the ramifications that such change would bring about?

The first crucial factor is that boys develop later than girls. This has been studied extensively in education and scientifically confirmed even by specialists in this field. Therefore, there is nothing ideological here.

While co-education works in primary schools because normally the psychological progress of children in middle-Childhood is the same, any changes that will be taking place in the body at this stage do not seem to affect the education of pupils. Totally different is the case when children reach the threshold of puberty. Societies in the past identified this factor to the extent that they allowed girls to marry at a younger age than boys. This is not a question of equality between sexes but of biological growth and development. From time immemorial, society has acknowledged that girls grow up before boys. Thus, the concept of a stratified education system was and still is necessary if one honestly wants to give all children an equal opportunity and a fair chance to develop their full potential. Thus, the concepts that one size fits all or putting all eggs in one basket are not applicable where education is concerned.   

Something that very few people know is that when free schooling was introduced in Malta in the 19th century, education was not compulsory and during the first decades, the number of girls in government schools exceeded the number of boys. The situation changed at the turn of the 20thcentury when boys started to be more numerous than girls attending school.

But let us forget history for a moment, even though I am referring to this historical fact to show that this article is not motivated by some form of gender politics or preconceived sexual ideals. For this reason, I would like to invite the new Minister of Education to order an honest report and study the true repercussions that the introduction of co-education has had on our secondary schooling.

Unlike Private Schools (I am not here including Church Schools) government can make a comparative study and analysis. Most private schools adopted the co-ed model from day one and therefore they cannot analyse how boys and girls performed in schools under a different teaching regime. Thus, Government has the advantage of being able to make an in-depth analysis and come up with the results needed to establish whether the old system was more beneficial to students or not. Government can find out how this change has affected boys and girls today and make a dispassionate assessment.

From my encounters with teachers who have taught under both systems, co-ed in secondary school has had a negative impact. I am told that girls’ marks have plummeted whilst boys’ marks have remained static with no improvement in the latter case whatsoever.

One of the reasons for introducing co-education in senior school was that it would benefit boys in developing sooner. Results appear to contradict this reasoning.  Instead of improving and advancing, girls in Government Schools are regressing when compared with pupils who studied under the old system.

The truth is that the switch to co-education was part of the liberal agenda to show the EU how Malta was advanced and progressive! It was also an illusory way of demonstrating gender equality. But this spree has radically changed the senior school experience for boys and girls. Many are those who spend their time in the restrooms arranging their hair and making sure that their face is looking great instead of being in class and focusing on their subjects. It is to be noted that this is happening with both sexes. These adolescents spend a lot of time trying to look their best for the opposite sex and therefore this distracts them from concentrating on their academic work.

There is now research by leading educationalists, such as Pearson, who rightly states that girls are far more at ease in same-sex schools as it gives them the opportunity to better concentrate and learn without having the pressure of having to look like little Lolitas besides also having to deal with the emotional problems that surface at this stage. It is normal for many teens in middle-adolescence to start becoming interested in romantic and sexual relationships without having the added distraction of the opposite being in class with them every school day.

Same-sex schools allow either sex to develop at its own pace according to its uptake and its budding personalities without having the unwelcome and unnecessary pressure of having to cope with the opposite sex at this stage of their adolescence.  Adolescents are being instead catapulted into early adulthood way before their time. We are not allowing them to enjoy the three (3) main stages that are Early Adolescence, Middle Adolescence, and Late Adolescence.  

After all, they will have ample time at the next phase of their education when they have finished their secondary education and proceed to post-secondary education where they can mingle freely, meeting others of both sexes and associating with whomsoever they wish without having been forced to cope with the opposite sex before they were ready to do so.    

One needs to remember that a number of psychologists are now challenging the dominant narrative and stating that apart from doing better academically, same-sex schooling has the collateral effect of enhancing the students’ self-esteem as they are not on edge worrying themselves sick that they could be ridiculed by the opposite sex amongst other things.  

I am convinced that in the future, the best achievers in the employment sector among the female population will not be from Private Schools that have always had an edge – both in terms of resources and structures – or Government Schools but from those schools that are not co-educational. Girls’ Church schools are at an advantage. The highest number of women in business and in particular in professions will remain from schools that belong to the Roman Catholic Church. This can already be seen. This has nothing to do with a confession but with the fact that they have not adopted the co-ed system. Adopting the adage that one-size-fits-all is a recipe for disaster.

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