Does Gender-Segregation in Classroom Lower Second Language Acquisition?

(Guest post by Brittany Lyons)

For decades, proponents of gender-segregation in classrooms have argued that separation of children by gender fosters a successful learning atmosphere. However, recent studies have shown that segregating classrooms by gender impacts student learning negatively.

The negative effects of separate classrooms are apparent in linguistics especially, where girls tend to develop strong academic abilities earlier than boys. Establishing gender-segregated classrooms denies boys and girls the opportunity to learn from each other, and reinforces the long-ago debunked idea that "separate but equal" is effective in institutions of learning.

Research conducted at Tel Aviv University suggests that girls help foster a stronger learning atmosphere in classrooms, and that both boys and girls benefit from being in mixed gender classes. The study found that test scores were higher overall in many areas, including reading comprehension, science and math, when boys and girls were in mixed classes. Test scores increased for both genders, and a high ratio of girls was linked to enhanced learning.

This data is supported by older education studies, which found that girls tend to excel in language arts as young children, while boys consistently develop later. This difference is true of children in many countries, and from many different linguistic backgrounds—not just in English-speaking high-income families with parents who can afford the cost of further education, be this at home, sending their children abroad or even via a distance learning program such as an online PhD education.

Whether the disparities in language acquisition are based in the brain or in upbringing, marked differences do exist between boys and girls, especially in elementary school classrooms. Listening to their female peers speak and interacting with them during classroom and playground activities helps boys to develop stronger language arts skills.

Schools who have attempted to institute gender-segregated classrooms have often seen an overall decrease in test scores, which shows that gender-segregation in schools is not effective for either boys or girls.

Another chief drawback of segregated classrooms is that they do not allow children to share their knowledge and experience with each other, but rather perpetuate gender-based cultural disparities. Learning how to interact with different people is seen as a key goal of education, especially in early childhood. Children who are deprived of the chance to interact with peers of different genders may have trouble relating to or communicating with individuals of the opposite gender later in life.

Many psychologists who focus on child and adolescent development have voiced concern that gender-segregated classrooms impact the social skills of students well into adulthood. They perpetuate unfounded stereotypes about how men and women are different, and contribute to gender-based prejudice.

The effects of gender-segregated teaching can have an impact on older students as well. Decreases in test scores occur in single-gender classrooms in both middle and high school, and grade point averages in general fall. This decrease in GPA can adversely affect students as they apply for college and scholarship opportunities. Depriving students of their best chances to enter excellent colleges and secure funding does them a disservice. The goal of public education should be to prepare individuals for successful careers and successful relationships, both of which are harmed by gender segregation.

Many of the ideas that proponents of gender-segregated classrooms have introduced into public discourse are nothing but old prejudices in new forms. These individuals argue that boys and girls are inherently different, and that they should thus be separated in classrooms. They argue that boys are more aggressive than girls, and that girls can only learn in cooperative environments. As the American Civil Liberties Union has noted in lawsuits against school districts with sex-segregated classrooms, none of these beliefs have been substantiated by science.

  • But what do you think - should boys and girls be separated? Why or why not?
  •  Have you noticed any differences in the way that males and females learn languages?

Blog post author
Brittany Lyons aspires to be a psychology professor, but decided to take some time off from grad school to help people learn to navigate the academic lifestyle. She currently lives in Spokane, Washington, where she spends her time reading science fiction and walking her dog. 

Image credit
Wikimedia commons, Daytona School

6 Responses to “Does Gender-Segregation in Classroom Lower Second Language Acquisition?”

    October 28, 2011

    Thanks so much Brittany for this very interesting post.

    I have often thought about this issue - I've taught children. teens and adults and they have always been in mixed groups - however I myself went to a same-sex school for about two years in my early teens and then from 15 was put into a mixed group.

    I remember how disruptive it was to be sitting next to some of the boys - obviously some of the boys did want to learn but others really just wanted to have a good time and would often lead the class in fun antics, disabling the teachers' abilities to teach.

    When I was on the other side of the fence, as the teacher teaching teens, I think I was okay at being the authority and keeping things moving but nonetheless noticed that "sex" plays a role - that attractiveness was important and that being studious is not often equated to attractiveness. I also noticed that yes, boys learn very differently than girls do (often boys prefer task that include order, logic, memorization - girls prefered discussions, group-tasks, thinking outside the box). Both liked games. I also noticed thought that these days the girls came up with just as many antics to distract the class if they could...

    but in both cases, when boys played up or when girls played up it was often to get the opposite sex's attention.

    so...I know this is a really old-old-old fashioned view but I am not entirely convinced regarding the benefits of keeping the sexes together all the time.

    I think, I guess, that while from kindergarten to 14 and from 18 onwards it makes sense - it is important to establish gender equality - however during the period when the brain is shooting out so many chemicals and so many, many hormones are racing through the body, things growing where things weren't growing before that it would make sense to separate into different groups...

    but then if I am really going to be honest and go out on a limb the trhuth is that I think that schooling during this period is a bit of a waste of time and that the scheduling should be changed dramatically during this development phase, that instead of forcing adolescents to sit in nice rows and study subjects that seem utterly removed from their realities that they shouldn't have the academic pressures that they have today, that there should be a personalized focus towards developing their humanity, ethics, towards providing for their interests (focusing on arts/sports/creativity) and then, later, at 17-18 once the hormones have settled, they've had the first kisses and what-not, they have a sense of their own identities and where they might be best fitting... that then they would go back to the more "principled" subjects / more employment-related subjects -- and that obviously, the school leaving age should be changed to 20/21.

    Well, that was waffling on! Thanks again for writing with the offer to do this, a very enjoyable piece that makes one think!

  • Clare says:
    October 29, 2011

    I'm equally in two minds. I went to an all girls' secondary school (primary school was mixed) and I can't say I particularly suffered from the lack of boys. In fact, I'm glad that I wasn't distracted from school / homework etc. It helped perhaps that I have brothers, so males were never a mystery to me (more of a pain, to be honest!)

    What wasn't so great was that back then, girls were expected to do various subjects, such as needlework (?!) and the arts. The sciences were appallingly taught in our school, which left me with a gaping hole in my education.

    I've taught in state schools here, and love the way the students work together. They're v collaborative (maybe more to do with being Italian?) and although you get the odd boy behaving as if he's got double dose of testosterone, they're generally v mature about working together. Though I notice that when I ask them to work in groups, they gravitate towards groups of all boys, and groups of all girls. Their choice - not mine.

  • Anonymous says:
    October 31, 2011

    I have to mimick a lot of what Karenne has suggested regarding the separation. As I was reading your post, I actually questioned the validity or scope of the studies (though I didn't care to look too far into that) as I've also read other students recently demonstrating an overall improvement in girls' test scores when separated from boys. Largely, the reasons came down to what Karenne's mentioned--the disruption caused by attention-seeking or fear of embarrassment.

    I myself have never attended nor taught in a planned single-sex classroom. When I have it was because of an enrolment fluke.

  • @oto_rodrigues says:
    October 31, 2011

    I'm so greatful to have been educated in a mixed gender enviroment because, among other things, that's when I learned how to appreciate and respect women - I only have brothers, no sis. So, I'm all for mixed gender classes.

  • David Deubelbeiss says:
    October 31, 2011


    I like and have always admired this "honesty" quality about you. Seems like you are or have done a rethink about how society uses school as a vehicle to produce its own desired outcomes. Schools have a vested interest, for the most part, in the industrial and commercial machine - they want to create the identities and not let them grow and be.... (but I'll stop, this would be a long discursion into liberation pedagogy, social reconstructivism and maybe, just maybe, unschooling.)

    About the "battle of the sexes" - I really think sex is irrelevant. I say this with the utmost respect for all those engrossed in gender differences etc.... yes, these studies/ideas matter but they should be applied to tweak the system, not tear it up and start anew. Students should be looked at as individuals and we need give the same attention to "equity" between the sexes and in education, as we should in other parts of society. That's the true calling of education. Good or bad, the spirit must be followed.

    I remember teaching grade 8 girls phys. ed. I got to bantering with the other phys. ed teacher, who taught the boys. He said that his boys would kill the girls, any sport. I didn't bother to challenge him/them. I just said, come watch the girls play volleyball, tomorrow aft. You'll be convinced they are the better athletes. And he was, was blown away. We both agreed that most of those girls could play with the boys.

    My point in this story isn't to remark that girls are just as good as boys. No. My point is that we all have "value" - and we all benefit from being in the same classroom, boy or girl. We all "CAN", in the right environment.


  • Anonymous says:
    March 22, 2018

    I believe to a certain extent that separation has an affect. In my opinion, this is largely due in part to the fact that language acquisition, conversation and communication is a social act. In order for "adults" per se to engage in language, male and female interaction is important.

    In regards to separation, for women in particular as long as the curriculum is fair and inclusive in regards to subjects it should not make a difference. But when the curriculum becomes limiting and narrow in content such as placing women in an area of learning that steers them in a domestic direction that is when I feel it's problematic.


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