Johan Fourie's blog

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Gender apartheid

with 10 comments

Boy meets girl: expect their grades to drop

Boy meets girl: now expect their grades to drop

Seeing that, according to the Cape Times, I don’t believe in gender parity, I might as well go the full distance and call for gender apartheid. Yes, I want separate neighbourhoods for boys and girls, separate beaches and benches, separate entrances to public buildings. Heck, I might even demand separate homelands for men and women. And to be honest, this will be much easier than implementing racial apartheid because we already have separate schools, separate sports teams and separate toilets.

You might think that I do this because I believe that one gender is somehow inferior to the other, but in fact I’m basing my big plan for gender apartheid on science which says that separate gender development is better for both sexes. According to a paper published in the American Economic Journal: Applied Economics, boys and girls do better at school if they interact less with the opposite sex. Here is the blurb for Andrew Hill’s paper The Girl Next Door: The Effect of Opposite Gender Friends on High School Achievement:

This paper finds that a student’s share of opposite gender school friends negatively effects high school GPA (grades). It uses the gender composition of schoolmates in an individual’s neighbourhood as an instrument for the gender composition of an individual’s self-reported friendship network. The effect occurs across all subjects for individuals older than sixteen, but only in mathematics and science for younger students. Additional results indicate effects may operate inside the classroom through difficulties getting along with the teacher and paying attention, and outside the classroom through romantic relationships.

Hill’s paper comes at a time when there is some debate about whether single-sex schools or mixed-gender schools are best. His results show unequivocally that single-sex classrooms are better for kids because they get along easier with the teacher and are not distracted by opposite-gender friends. I would think that a romantic relationship might prove to be a valuable confidence booster, with a positive impact on grades. But alas, it seems like the opposite sex is bad news. One might also think that causality works in the opposite direction: that poor-performing kids tend to select into relationships with the opposite sex. Let me rephrase that: nerds have their books and jocks have their girls. But Hill’s clever use of an econometric technique called instrumental variables avoids this possible causal problem: kids that live in neighbourhoods with lots of kids from the other gender tend to do worse in exams than kids who live in neighbourhoods where the other kids happened to be of the same gender. Causality runs therefore clearly from interaction with other kids to worse grades.

But somehow I am slightly uncomfortable with the policy implications of these results. Maybe it’s because I attended a mixed-gender school and simply don’t want to believe that these schools are necessarily worse than single-sex schools. (My mother and my wife attended a single-sex school, though, so I can’t be too critical.) But maybe it’s also because I believe that schools impart more than just our ability to do math and learn history. Maybe the social interactions in school are really important to teach values such as fairness, equality and diversity. Of course, many single-sex schools organise student interactions outside the classroom to accommodate this vital part of social learning. But taking Hill’s findings literally, one would want to avoid even these social interactions.

The results also imply that with relatively little additional costs, the grades of high school students across the country can be improved by just making all schools same-sex schools. A sort-of Grand Gender Apartheid policy for schools. But I wonder what we’ll lose in the process. If my own high school experience is anything to go by, I would think a lot. School is a multidimensional experience and shouldn’t be reduced to only one criterium – grades. Gender apartheid, much like other forms of apartheid, is a bad idea.


Written by Johan Fourie

October 3, 2014 at 12:53

10 Responses

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  1. Perhaps there’s a cost involved with interacting. A stress associated with the self esteem while interacting with the opposite sex, but part of a learning process. If we make the assumption that we want all people to go through this phase without compromising performance in other facets of their lives, we should try to understand what the optimal age is for the interaction. If the phase is postponed to a person’s ” university years” I often observe that the psychological impact is exacerbated for the the individual. My hypothesis would be that the likelihood of a lower mark is a small price to pay in order to achieve emotional maturity at an earlier stage of one’s life, if you want to be happy.

    Cornel Bekker

    October 28, 2014 at 10:32

  2. I also agree that it won’t work. I feel like this is a matter being able to make your own decisions and being to forsee the consequences of your decisions. If you know your purpose in life then interacting with the opposite sex won’t mislead you.

    Relebohile Koetepe

    October 13, 2014 at 18:28

  3. I totally agree with the fact that this gender apartheid will not work. You make a very good point Boitshoko,that somethings can not be avoided and if anything, they will cause other unnecessary problems

    Palesa Moloi

    October 11, 2014 at 16:44

  4. Hello Johan, I understand why you conclude to gender apartheid as a bad idea, but if we carefully think about this, hypothetically it might do the economy some good. The rate of teenage pregnancy will decrease and again as you mentioned, may result in higher school grades.

    Fortunate Mahlatse Mangaba

    October 9, 2014 at 07:03

    • I do not agree. I would rather think that teenage pregnancy would increase. The reason being that teenagers aren’t exposed to the other gender in order to learn more about one another and therefore when they do come in contact, they do not know how to behave or act or react or when or where to draw a line. This might cause them to do things or go further about with these things they do not know enough about. School is not just there to teach educational learnings, same as with sport not only being there to be active but to also learn sportmanship for example. Thus school is part of our learning path on more than one level; to teach people skill, communication, respect, etc.


      October 11, 2014 at 13:44

      • To make a suggestion, to compensate so both sides, thus to bring in apartheid between different genders in school(to a certain extent) but still make interaction possible between them; have a mixed-gender school, but single-sex classrooms. Like this they can still focus on their grades during class time but can also learn from each other (different sexes) outsides class and with the other activities schools offer.
        Personally I’m not for or against the one or the other between single- or mixed-gender schools, I think it comes down to personal preference.

        Nadia Swanepoel

        October 11, 2014 at 14:00

  5. What happens when these individuals get into the workplace? should there be some form of apartheid there as well?

    Boitshoko Mongalo

    October 8, 2014 at 18:33

    • We are taught how to communicate with colleagues not of a specified gender but colleagues in general, if this is implemented we will do fine with skills acquired from school or tertiary level.

      Fortunate Mahlatse Mangaba

      October 9, 2014 at 07:07

      • I agree with the fact that gender apartheid is a bad idea as well. What would be the point of the segregation if the two genders are going to interact at some point in their lives? i.e. the workplace. I understand that skills are taught at school and tertiary level, with regards to colleague interaction, however, we cant be ignorant to the fact that a sudden exposure to the opposite sex will have no effect whatsoever on the worker and their job productivity as a whole. At the end of the day, we are human and regardless of intensive skills and training, certain things will always be inherent to us e.g. our biological and hormonal systems

        Boitshoko Mongalo

        October 10, 2014 at 17:02

  6. You always manage to put an interesting spin on things. Will read this as soon as possible…Dankie Siyabonga

    Sinethemba Zonke

    October 3, 2014 at 12:56

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