My all-girls education failed to give me the skills I now value most

I began to question the logic that girls must be sequestered away from males in order to learn the very skills that are needed to work with them in the future.

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One of the underlying assumptions about all-girls schooling is that boys are an impediment to a girl achieving her potential. They are “other”. It’s as if their presence will take something away from a girl, that she won’t feel confident enough to thrive in their presence.

This was certainly the messaging I took on board throughout my time at an all-girls school, and I still hear the same messaging from parents today.

Now I feel those assumptions not only further entrench outdated gender roles, but demonstrate an offensive distrust in both the strength and capacity of our girls and the humanity of our boys.

On a daily basis, boys in a co-ed school get to see that girls are confident, capable, courageous and profoundly human. They get to experience a female perspective when discussing issues. They work together on projects. They see girls succeeding and leading and it is completely normal.

The idea that girls must be isolated from the rest of society and overtly taught strategies of how they are going to cope when they are finally catapulted back into it seems a back-to-front way of going about preparing girls for leadership. The cultivation of women’s leadership potential should not be the sole responsibility of women; all of society must contribute.

My daughter has grown up with a second language that wasn’t available to me as a teenager.Credit:Louie Douvis

My daughter has grown up with a second language that wasn’t available to me as a teenager – a language to express female solidarity, strength, possibility and self-worth. The culture she has experienced is totally different from the one I knew as a teenager.

And while some might dismiss the empowering effect of a Taylor Swift lyric, or watching The Simpsons episode “Lisa vs Malibu Stacey”, those cultural experiences have done as much to provide fluency in that language for her as any overt teaching by her parents or school.

I ended up sending my three children to the local high school. My daughter is now 15. What has she missed out on going to a co-ed school? Her government school, like many, had some poor facilities, inconsistency in teaching due to a staff room under immense pressure, funding shortages.

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What has she gained? All those skills it took me so long to learn. Enviable confidence that she can talk to anyone and handle herself in any situation. An ability to try new things, make a fool of herself and find it funny, rather than humiliating. A complete indifference to the “otherness” of boys. She lives her life with them every day. They are her friends and collaborators.

This morning, I asked her if she had ever felt any sense of discrimination at school because she was a girl. Did the boys dominate? Has she ever been tempted to “play small” because she’s worried what the boys will think of her? Did she feel that the boys were stopping her from achieving her potential?

She gave me the same withering look as the time I asked her to explain TikTok. “Never,” she said. She’s too polite to say “OK, Boomer”, but I’m pretty sure she thought it.

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