The modern age is touted to be of animated inclusion rather than seclusion. Just like all-round economic growth, gender equality (a facet of social growth) also will stem from greater interaction between the two sexes rather than from partitioning them with a (now) threadbare curtain. On one hand we lay great emphasis on inclusion of women in the workforce and making the environment conducive for both sexes – the unisex way of looking at things – while on the other hypocritical hand, single gender educational institutions still exist… resting (rusting) on reasons long gone obsolete.
Single gender educational institutions began as a means to incorporate women into the educational ambit in an era when social segregation of the two sexes was a matter of strict practice. This was perhaps the only way to make sure that girls got an education; by ensuring that they would pursue studies in an alternate environment checked-free from the “corrupting” influence of the male.
This might still be resorted to advisably in parts of the world where the social stigma attached to male-female interaction is so high-strung that the just-mentioned angle of the only hope of getting girls into a classroom is by creating gender-specific teaching institutions. This too should be a temporary arrangement; a fulcrum to uphold universal education till social change in the form of complete acceptability of male-female social interaction reaches penetrable maturity in the minds of people. The morale behind all-boys educational institutions lay on the claim that education was a male domain; an “argument” that is considered not only chauvinistic but a verbal violation of human rights by today’s standards.
Society has come a long way since the time that has been spoken about. Men and women are considered to be riding the same highway today, equal for all practical purposes. They are expected to share the same workspace since (in most cases) the budding stages of their careers. Why not flag off this process of intermixing from childhood itself in the form of co-ed schools? Co-educational institutions would ensure that men and women do not feel like awkward cogs in each other’s company later in life, when interaction cannot be omitted. I have come across many without the privilege of a co-ed background who find it a daunting task to muster up the nerve to approach the opposite sex. Healthy, fruitful discussions (be it personal or professional) are next to the proverbial impossible to conduct in such perspiring company, impeding any solution-making process sought.
If the morale of segregation is to keep the sexes morally sound on the chaste path, it is a wrongful assumption. Segregation will only lead to curiosity which can in extreme cases lead to ghastly repercussions, often sexually deviant behaviour. Like they say, curiosity kills the cat. Looking at the (comparatively) brighter extreme, complete social segregation of males and females can often lead to (like we have seen in the past) people marrying mates of literally anonymous personalities. The probability of two people with clashing personalities coming together into marital bonds and fashioning it into a success is rare. In most such cases, given the background of acquaintance, the union is successful largely because of the lifelong indoctrination of the woman into accepting the man as he is, with equal regard to the good, the bad and the ugly in him. The assumption is true if we were to reverse the role of gender and press play on the situation. Social segregation has often led to seemingly frivolous but damaging situations in which women passed up the opportunity to be rescued from a hostage situation or any difficulty because they were reluctant to present their condition to potential male saviors due to social taboos (law enforcers or otherwise).
A co-ed environment will facilitate the sexes in understanding each other’s psychology better and stave off misconceptions and generalisations about each other. Girls would realize their own potential in a practical environment where competition with boys is unavoidable, leading to their being brought up disregarding myths about their mental “inferiority” to boys. The argument that a particular gender will be comfortable discussing things concerning it in a single gender setting does not hold as co-education, if sought since early childhood, will anyway rout out any feelings of unnecessary discomfort while dealing with the opposite sex in most cases. What has often been bafflement to me is the stinging paradox in large cities that cry hoarse about gender equality but hold pride in maintaining single gender educational institutions citing their historical heritage and academic excellence. The only reason broad-minded well-to-do families send their children into these institutions seems to be the prestige attached to these. Somehow the prestige is suspected to be brought down by the act of opening up the institutions to the other sex as well.
By segregating the sexes, we just might be, without the slightest of realization, violating the rights of the third sex. In a bipolar educational world, where does the third gender fit? They might be a scientific anomaly but asking them to choose conformity to either an all-girls or all-boys environment will be practically forcing them to comply with the behavioural patterns of that particular sex. Such a person will be admitted to a single gender educational institution by parents on the basis of certain observed characteristics observed as gender-specific. The road will lead to disaster if the parents happen to wrong with their keen eyes (with the best of intentions). The child, later in life, might fail to find coherence with the behavioural patters of the sex that it is left to grow up with. The next unfortunate phase will be an identity crisis, the roots of which lie in the society’s refusal to grant the person the freedom of choice concerning their identity. Crueler treatment to a gender whose social awkwardness has relegated itself miles away from even the lowest rung of the educational ladder. Why must the third sex be forced to choose between the two dominant blocks of behavioural sexuality as a price for education? Self-exploration of such a person to arrive at their inherent behaviour is possible only if allowed to. And it is only through their self-exploration that our awareness about them would rise to a tolerant level. Holding to light this side of reasoning, it would seem that co-education is important not only for the wholesome development of just men and women but everyone whom God has decided to put on the planet as his/her/its best creation.
For Yin, for Yang and for God’s open ambiguous gender changeling, co-education is synonymous with co-existence today.
The writer is a Senior Editor of Youth Ki Awaaz. You can know more about her here.