The benefits of a girls’ school do not come from separating girls from boys, but from the ability of a girls’ school to focus entirely on the education, development and well-being of girls.
Girls’ schools are able to focus all of their time, resources, attention and energy to the unique needs of girls where co-educational schools simply cannot. They have the flexibility to customize teaching strategies, programs, and experiences to match girls’ interests, challenges and learning styles.
The results are profound:
There are differences in the ways girls and boys learn and interact with others. Girls’ schools acknowledge these differences and offer a learning environment that is responsive the unique academic and developmental needs of girls. Teachers have the flexibility to tailor their teaching to match the way girls learn. They are able to adapt the content, pace and delivery of the curriculum to draw on girls’ strengths, capture their interest, and actively engage them in learning.
Girls tend to learn more effectively through cooperation and context. They experience greater success in small, group settings where they are part of a shared experience. In a girls’ school, girls’ values and need for community and connectedness are honoured. Teachers design tasks, activities and projects that allow for discussion, collaboration and cooperative problem-solving. They use role-playing exercises and draw on real-life situations to give classroom topics meaning and context.
When teaching practices are responsive to girls’ needs, girls learn more effectively and experience greater academic success. They learn to adapt their skills and strengths to subjects that may have seemed difficult, confusing or overly challenging in a co-ed setting. Simply put, girls’ schools are better able to interest, engage and inspire girls. The result is an environment where girls become powerful learners.
Most teenagers, female and male alike, will choose the familiar rather than risk embarrassment trying something new. Girls take more chances when fewer social pressures are mixed into their learning environment; they are more willing to risk a wrong answer, misstep or failed attempt because public mistakes don’t carry the social risk they do in a co-ed environment.
Girls’ schools provide opportunities for girls to take risks, succeed, and also fail, in a supportive environment where mistakes don’t cause them to dismiss their abilities or deter them from trying again. They develop the courage needed for real learning to take place.
In a girls’ school, girls don’t always stick to what they already know they’re good at. They believe in their ability to succeed at any task and in a variety of subjects. They learn firsthand the value and reward of stepping outside their ‘comfort zones’ and discover talents and interests they may never have uncovered in a co-ed setting.
“You can’t be what you can’t see” (Marian Wright Edelman) – or at the very least, it is a heck of a lot harder. In a girls’ school, girls see other girls doing everything.
When a student population comprises only girls, the diversity that exists among girls is more apparent. Girls’ schools are better able to nurture and celebrate that diversity. You won’t see all the girls doing some things and all the boys doing other things – because girls do everything. There are no preconceived notions about what girls are good at or should be involved in; they pursue subjects, activities and opportunities according to their strengths, interests and passions.
It is easy for young girls to find strong and diverse role models amongst their peers. Girls see other girls excelling in a broad range of subjects and activities. In a girls’ school, girls are the strongest athletes, most brilliant scientists, most talented musicians, most creative artists and most confident leaders. Girls are the ones speaking up, standing at the podium, holding the microphone and leading their peers. They see they can fill any role, pursue any passion and excel in any subject. Girls see that they can do or be anything, and they see it every single day.
In a co-ed environment, it is the boys who tend to dominate the classroom and the teacher’s attention. Girls often hold back their opinions and thoughts for fear that someone will disagree or be upset with their viewpoint. This kind of “nice” behaviour is often encouraged, especially in young girls, but the effects can be harmful as these girls grow into people-pleasing adults.
At a girls’ school, the classroom dynamics shift; girls are noticeably more involved in learning and classroom activities. They participate fully and enthusiastically in discussions: asking questions, sharing their thoughts, and voicing their ideas and opinions openly. Girls are less self-critical and less self-conscious in this environment; they are more likely to take a guess or offer an answer and less worried that it be right. Their teachers and peers expect them to contribute, and they learn to assume others will be interested in their ideas and their perspective.
Girls stop being the listeners, the audience and the bystanders; they become the doers and they are at the centre of all the action. It is their voices that are heard, their ideas that are implemented and their solutions that solve problems.
When girls come to a girls’ school their focus is on learning and exploring; the social aspects of school do not overwhelm the classroom environment. At a girls’ school, time in the classroom is time spent learning.
Girls are more authentic in this environment; they aren’t performing for boys or working to get their attention. They say what they mean, mean what they say, and have the freedom to truly be themselves – which allows for more meaningful learning to take place.
Girls here don’t hesitate to raise their hand when they know the answer or to succeed. They are less worried that something they do or say may not be “cool.” They don't worry about looking “dumb,” and they certainly don't worry about seeming smart. They are more likely to display their intelligence and curiosity, and to take pride in their academic successes.
Girls’ schools do not exist to shelter girls. In fact, the exact opposite is true: girls’ schools put girls in the spotlight.
Many years of research throughout Canada and the United States has shown that girls begin science education at a disadvantage and fall behind in school, not because of lack of interest, but because of lack of exposure.
In an all girl environment, girls have greater access and exposure to subjects, activities and experiences that are typically dominated by boys in a co-ed environment. They have more freedom to explore subjects girls typically shy away from and are encouraged to be confident that they can do well in them. Girls are less intimidated to try something they have little experience in or that doesn’t come naturally.
Girls’ schools are ‘can do’ environments where girls have the freedom to be daring, experiment, explore and try on new roles. Opportunities for self-exploration and development are everywhere because girls take on every role: every function on the student government, every part in the play, every position on every team.
Media is becoming increasingly pervasive and accessible, and girls are portrayed in media in an increasingly narrow way. They experience intense pressure to be sexy at an alarmingly young age. Superficialities are presented as more important than substance, offering girls limited and distorted ideas for what a young woman should aspire to. This is an ongoing challenge that girls’ schools are uniquely positioned to address.
Girls’ schools give girls more options about what a young woman can be and aspire to. The culture and climate of a girls’ school values achievements beyond a girl’s looks. Girls are surrounded by a community that reinforces their abilities, value and potential, and fosters a strong sense of self-respect. It is an environment where girls have no doubt that their ideas, opinions, talents, strengths, and perseverance are more important and more valuable than absolutely anything else.