Thursday, November 09, 2006

No Girls Allowed

Imagine my surprise on reading a research on gender-segregated classes in Canada!

When I was in high school in the Middle East, Bengali classes, which happened twice a week, was eagerly looked forward to by the guys. Our high school was segregated by gender. Boys had their own buildings and entrance and playground, while the girls had theirs - and the twain shall never meet except after school hours when most of the guys would go around to the girls' entrance on the pretext of waiting for their 'sisters'. In fact, one of the biggest reasons cricket was so popular was that if you could manage to hit a six properly, the ball would go to the girls' playground, and then the fielders would make a dash to fetch that ball - but I digress.

The reason Bengali class was so popular was that it was the only subject that was taught combined. So the scheduling would be such that Bengali boys would join the girls of the same class in some classroom for that period only. Twice a week. Apparently it was hard to find qualified Bengali teachers for the British O'Level system and our school had only one. Oh, how we lorded over our non-Bengali friends over that fact.

So there was this one student, shall we call him X. So X decided to pass a note to this girl (naturally seated across the aisle on the other half of the classroom). X therefore wrote his note on a piece of paper, folded it into a paper airplane, and while the teacher's back was turned, threw it across the room and then quickly ducked back into his books.

Unfortunately for him, Muslims and pilots are not meant to be. The plane took a dip, changed directions in mid air and came to rest - directly behind the teacher's feet. Unknown to X, who was concentrating sharply on the Amar Boi text book, the teacher bent down, picked up the paper, read it, and then turned to the class.

"X!" She suddenly announced. "I am quite impressed at your writing recently."

"Um, thanks?" X, though puzzled, beamed. Yet another chance to impress the ladies.

"Yes, not only by your writing, vocabulary, but also your reading skills have improved considerably. Why don't you come here and read this poem?"

Oh, how X eagerly stepped forward to the teacher's desk. And how his heart must have skipped a beat when he saw the unfolded paper note, formerly an airplane, in the teacher's hand.

He spent the next two classes standing outside the classroom.

Now, before you think X is me, let me tell you X wasn't me. Firstly, the teacher was my MOM, and I would NEVER dare to try anything in her class. Second, I was sort of oblivious to girls at that age. Idiot me.

So, why this piece of nostalgia? Well, today, I read this article in the Star on how this B.C. principal commented on a study they did which seemed to prove that pupils excel when boys and girls are split up. According to the study, maths, reading comprehension and writing skills all improved because "segregating has taken away social pressures". In fact boys outperformed girls in many areas after being segregated.

I leave you with a little food (a morsel really) for thought. I showed the study to two friends of mine, Sheikh and DJ. Sheikh, as his name suggested, told me this is why Islam is the solution and how UofT today are discovering that wudu washes away your sins, and now, segregating classes lead to brighter students.

Then when I was talking to DJ (who really is a DJ), and he exclaimed "maths and English are not the only skills people need to know. What about social skills? Or interaction? How many Muslim students do you know who come from such a background and then 'go crazy' once they are away from parental supervision? And how many don't but cannot deal properly with girls, or their wives?"



Athena said...

So you aren't X because your mom was the least that's what YOU say hehe.

Segregated classes? I don't offense to anyone but most (90% if not all) of the girls I know who went to an all girls school are just weird when it comes to boys. They were wayyyy more boy crazy and from a younger age :\...or maybe I am just slow.


Anonymous said...

"Unfortunately for him, Muslims and pilots are not meant to be."

Good one :D

Maliha said...

I went to a catholic all girls school...yes the stereotype is correct, the girls were freaks.

I agree with need to have the tools to learn how to interact with the other gender/ isolation rarely works.

sonia said...

of course you're right athena - i think this post highlights that segregation means the boys have an extra keen interest in the girls! and vice versa

sonia said...

question: which country in the middle east was this btw?

Em said...


Another great read... TWO classes standing outside the classroom? Wow, your mum's pretty strict :D .

You bring up an interesting, age-old question. To be completely honest, my answers to your last two questions are "many". But at least to me, the answer remains "many" even for those coming off of a co-ed schooling background... I don't really see a clear differential. To me, any purported differential seems to be driven by a differential prior expectation... like the unwritten prior expectation that the hijaabi woman will be more practicing than the non. Why should we -- in our priors -- expect proportionally fewer single-genders to 'go crazy' when they 'go out into the world'? So much so that we are 'disappointed' when more than our expected number do?

That said, I'm not even convinced by the study. I actually typed a few of my unresolved criticisms here... I know, I was pretty bored :).

'liya said...

Haha aww your teacher was your mom, that's too cute!

Well I agree with the other comments, I know girls who've been to all girls schools and they are SO boy crazy it's just weird. I can't imagine being segregated like that - why take away all the fun?! Thank God my high school wasn't like that :D

.. and loved the pilot sentence !

rashed said...

I used to go these Bangla classes with Mezba, and I am dumbfounded that someone from that class actually did this sort of thing. We started taking these classes from Grade 4 till Grade 10. Everyone in that class was pretty much devoted to studying and trying to hit on a girl with a paper plane in that school was unthinkable.

When I look back at those "segregated" days, I am not sure if it was actually a great thing. Somehow we started to become more wary of a girl than we wouldn't if we were not segregated. Some of us became too shy and some of us fell into this whirlwind of one-sided teenage love.

mezba said...

Athena: I think it's true what you say, when you are kept away from something the attraction grows. Thats why Adam (s) had the apple and so on.

Shobon: It was a sign man. We can be anything we want to be, just not pilots. The bad turbulence everytime we were on board Air Saudi is a testament to that fact.

Maliha: personally I am with DJ here. If segregation was all it was hyped up to be Muslim countries would have the greatest scholars in physics, maths and so on.

One thing I wonder about Catholic schools, there are religious schools right? Then why are their skirts so short? Not that I look ofcourse... I *lower my gaze*

Sonia: all those middle east countries were usually the same. Ya I think absence makes the heart grow fonder or something...

Em: Oh my mom was fair.. strict but fair...and i got double punishment (school AND home) so never tried to be anything but the good boy in her class.. and then had teachers of other class complaining to mom later about the stuff i pulled in their classes.. i couldn't win i tell u

I will comment on your post.

liya: So it's true what they say about catholic girls... always wondered *horns on head*

I agree, coed is more fun in some classes.

Everyone in that class was pretty much devoted to studying and trying to hit on a girl with a paper plane in that school was unthinkable.

Sure sure. *laughs and rolls eyes*

I sent you an email about who the guy was.

Farah said...

Excellent post - from experience I can tell you the best way is to crumple the paper and toss it - it is sure to land where you aim it ;-)

As for segregation I probably think it's a better idea for that part of the world. They learn a lot in school (the curriculum is tougher - here in Canada students know jack shit) so they are better off not having to deal with other social pressures.

mezba said...

Sonia, you can email me and I will tell you which country it was (if you haven't figured it out already from my blogs).

Anonymous said...

I think that the study concluded that boys ended up doing much better when segregated, not all students in general.

Social skills are important, but at the same time there are many who are in segregated schools that don't go crazy (later on). So there must be more to it right. I guess that is because social skills can be picked up other places too. Like at home, with friends and family friends, in the play grounds, while part of sports. When it comes down to it, if your "after-school" life is completely segregated, then I think someone would go crazy regardless.


saqi namah said...

>>How many Muslim students do you know who come from such a background and then 'go crazy' once they are away from parental supervision?

I know a lot of people that did but then at the same time I know a few that did not e.g., I was in a segregated school untill college and yet I turned out alright. However I do see your point and may be there is no right answer or no right way to address this problem and like most other things its just contextual. I however I must say that at least for Muslims that I know in the USA, I have noticed that people who went to segregated schools end up living the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde lifestyle - all pious when they are around Muslim girls and all sexed up when they are aroud non-Muslim women.

arafat said...

I went to a "co-ed" school until 5th grade in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. Yes we had our childish boys vs. girls fights but it was all in good faith. But then I went to my segregated school in Dhaka, and I was totally taken aback by how the boys would obsess so much about girls, it was really quite disturbing (I was particularly freaked out by the naughtier boys in class). While I understand that I can't make a definite conclusion because there are too many factors involved (e.g. the fact that it was, after all, the age when hormones were raging), I do believe that segregation has its repressive effects that aren't very good. Furthermore, I think schools should reflect reality: segregation is deceptive. If the real world is made up of men and women, then boys and girls should learn how to be civil with the opposite gender while already at school. Otherwise, in the case of boys, girls become overly fantasized hypersexualized objects. And from what some of my female friends have reported, it's not so great on the girls' side either.

Thankfully though at my school the A-Level classes were co-ed, because, just like your high-school Bengali class, there weren't enough resources to provide teachers to separate groups of boys and girls. Although our principal, almost a classic matriarch, would always insist that now that we were grown up, we were expected to behave responsibly and "respect the girls", and for the girls to "dress properly" :-)

When it comes to the college level, however, I do appreciate the extensive body of research that indicate the benefits of women-only institutions. Unfortunately I can't comment extensively on this since I'm not particularly familiar with these studies, though I probably should be, considering that I now work for a prospective women's university! In any case, we should note the remarkable history of the American women's colleges, particularly such prestigious names as Wellesly, Smith and Bryn Mawr, which have and still do play a significant role in America. Important to note though, that since these studies are in the context of women's empowerment, the factors/conclusions probably do not corroborate in reverse, i.e. men's only institutions (which were, of course, the exclusive norm in America until about the late 19th c!).

But that is not to imply that I think all women should go to women's colleges. Hardly so! Rather, I think that women's colleges should be an available option, particularly in societies where women haven't yet been fully accepted into the "public sphere". BTW, we should note that the student population at most American colleges are over 50% female!

Anyways, I am so sorry for digressing so much! I really just wanted to say, Mezba, that this was a great post! Also, I had no idea you went to school in the Middle East. I guess I haven't been coming back to your blog often enough :-)

sabrina said...

I wrote this a long time ago about this segregation thing:

I don't know how it is on the boy's side for all boys classes/school, I can say with high certainty that all girls classes and sport facilities give women a better environment to learn and grow. I am not talking about sexual issues here, because we have even had cases of at least one pregnancy every couple of years in an all girls school in Bangladesh, but the co-ed schools were not that different either, especially with easire access to EC. But, if you only talk about learning issues, girls tend to do a lot better in all girl environment... and I am not talking about just class material an overall mental growth.

And I have a lot of classmates from Smith! Something is really special about these women: so elegant, so smart, so hard working. Just amazing!

mezba said...

Farah: True, maybe segregation is a necessity for that part of the world, but not perhaps for the reason you state (that they need to study more). I think it's because they culturally view roles of men and women differently.

When it comes down to it, if your "after-school" life is completely segregated, then I think someone would go crazy regardless.

I agree completely.

Saqi: The Jekyll and Hyde is an apt comparison, for both guys and girls. Just because you go to a segregated school does not mean you won't get involved with the opposite gender - it depends on your values and upbringing, and teaching of values and boundaries at home is very important.

mezba said...

Arafat: I agree that segregation is deceptive and that it does not reflect the real world - on that same point I disagree with religious schools as well - you are being hidden away from the real world.

In our local high school there are drug dealing students, loafers, student mothers and at the same time there are maths geniuses, young Rhodes scholars, Muslim kids and non-Muslim kids and so on. Studying with all of them prepares you better to deal with real life and get a handle on how to deal with such issues and temptations that may arise in the future.

Arafat, Sabrina: I think you both have a valid point that girls in an all-girl school may have better freedom to do certain activities they may not be able to do in a co-ed environment. While I cannot give the view point of an all-girl's school, I think segregation must not be made the law as is the case back in those areas of the world, but an option that can be utilized if necessary.

Suroor said...

Mezba, I posted comments twice here but I can't see them :-(

sabrina said...

I agree that it should NOT be the law, however, women should have that option of attending all women school. I wish I could attend an all women college for myself, if i could turn back time, I would!
I replied to your comment, Mezba. And also wanted to share this article by a Physicist at Yale, with your readers as well:

Suroor said...

I really liked the story :-)

I don't know whether or not boys would do better when segregated but I think when they wouldn't do well is when they are segregated and then put together like in your Bengali class. Boys and I'm sure girls too would look forward to such opportunities all day.

Who wants to study without boys?! ;-)

isheeta said...

I went to an all girls school/segregated in my juniour years... and then was literally thrown into the lions during my teenage years. Needless to say, it was a shock trying to grapple with the whole "oooh, theyre BOYS!" issue... our uniform was grey trousers/skirts and white shirts. BUT do you know the issues that the girls faced with, once they were removed from a seg school to a non-seg one? The MANY combinations of trousers/skirts/shirts to wear the nect day! So yeah, when you deprive someone of something for a while, then bombard them with it later on, theres a tendency to be a little obsessive about it for no good reason. Like they keep saying, moderation is the key for anything, and if we had some of that social interactions/skilsl taught to us, or even exposed to us when they werent considered such a big deal, we wouldnt have to go all crazy without parental supervision (and regret them later in life). I agree with mezba.. "segregation is deceptive and that it does not reflect the real world"... if it was acceptable, we would still be living in slaverym, apartheid in South Africa would not have been looked at with disgust etc etc etc... unfortunately it is more difficult to implement long standing tradition/changes, and much easier to accept the conformed past.

And so the cycle goes on.

And love is born when a boy (that is NOT mezba! lol) throws a lovenote to a girl 9/11 style. lol

Anonymous said...

why is segregation a surprise to you? Segregation never stopped .. it still exists ..

Anonymous said...

Went to an all girl high school too,I wouldn't have minded co-ed.At that time,we were mostly into studies and such, I guess it's because of that society. We grew up in a very competitive environment and if it was mixed,I think both genders would have excelled!! sf

Suroor said...

Mezba, why do I have a feeling I know the school you mention here?

Anonymous said...

re: Suroor's question, yes Mezba, I'm also curious which school you went to? :-)

re: Sabrina's: "I have a lot of classmates from Smith! Something is really special about these women: so elegant, so smart, so hard working"

Dude that's because you're a woman! Let me tell you, I know a whole bunch of kids from women's colleges, and have also visited this one well-known women's college: the girls feel so deprived, and are SO obsessed about boys, it's not even funny! Also, I have heard (from my acquaintances themselves) that lesbianism is rampant on campus (NOT that i think there's anything wrong with that).

I am, of course, exaggerating a little bit. But it's roughly true.

Anyhow, I fully agree with you Sabrina, that in reference to statistical and psychological studies, women are often better off going to women-only institutions (in terms of achievement). This is so not just in terms of the freedom to do certain things, but factors like psychological pressure, competition, rate of enrollment in science, etc.

These studies are of particular interest to the movement for women's empowerment, which is my main concern.

Despite all that, I still insist that segregated schools should not be the norm.

Anonymous said...

i dnt c wots the bigdeal, my sissta went to a girls only skul and i went to a mixed skul cuz der was no space but she ant a freak she has a bf and i dont she knows more about boys then i do and she is only a year older so i think it depends on the indivisual & how much they want to find out about the other gender.

Anonymous said...

I grew up in gender-segregated classes, like many others here. It seemed to me that the gender-segregated classes didn't do much to us, though it is a little foggy now that I'm grown. The girls were constantly waiting for after school, to see the boys. The same for the boys. It always seemed as if it would have been the same thing if the boys were in the class room. It would make no difference, seeming as if instead, we would just be staring at them in person, instead of picturing them in out minds. Besides, it is a known fact that a total of 90% of boys, work better with girls. I believe these classes are wrong. When I went to college, we weren't seperated, and it seemed that all of the girls who were seperated in their younger years were shy and scared, rather then dating. Sure you can all say that is contributing to better learning, and less distraction, but what are we really gaining from it? In real life, are we seperated? NO. I believe these classes are just another stereotype in disguise.