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Friday, 1 April 2011

Co-Education: an obscurantist view

By Muhammad Ilyas Khan

A few days ago one went through an ‘interesting’ article in a Pakistani newspaper titled ‘Arguments against co-education’. The article is, for the most part of it, based on illogical, half-baked and pedantic views presented in a most unpersuasive, smug manner. As a matter of fact the article seems to promote ideas more against female education as a whole rather than merely against co-education. One wishes to make an effort in this present article to critically analyse the various arguments against the concept of co-education in the above mentioned article. This will be done by discussing some of the points put forward in the article mentioned above.
In the first point titled as ‘wrong concept of equality’. The writer says, “God had created both male and female as two different sexes i.e. opposite of one another and gifted them separate powers, functions, tastes, outlook to help them in their daily life i.e. male as a bread winner and female as a child bearer. Both genders are not equal physically and mentally. Physically and mentally male is stronger than female. If equality is promoted among both genders then it will be against the rules of nature. Those who do not follow the rules of nature will be suffered as in the West where it has adversely affected the Western society.” The writer is not much off the mark when he says male and female are created as two different sexes. But what does he mean when he says that they are ‘opposite of one another’, I mean opposite in what sense? And what does that ‘oppositeness’ entail in terms of educating them? From this he concludes that a male thus becomes a bread winner and a female a child bearer! Who will tell this gentleman that not all men are capable of earning bread for themselves and for their families due to a multitude of reasons? Expecting every man as an essential bread winner and every woman as a mere ‘child bearer’ may result in a situation where both the husband, the wife as well as their children will have to die out of hunger in case the male is unable to earn and the female is forbidden to earn though otherwise capable of doing so. Similarly when the writer says that both male and female are physically and mentally not equal, one is not sure how does he say this. They may be physically different (by this the writer means men are physically stronger than women, in which case he may be right to some extent), but when he argues that women are mentally different (by which he seems to mean that women are inferior mentally as compared to men), one has some reservations. No objective study and research substantiates this view. And then this gem of wisdom, “if equality is promoted among both genders then it will be against the rule of nature”. One should ask the wise man, what kind of equality is he talking of? Is it equality of rights or duties? Nothing can be more vague and absurd than this statement. And what are the rules of nature after all? Does the writer mean male domination and female subjugation? The good writer is of the strong view that this kind of irrationality (promotion of equality among men and women!) has adversely affected western society. How? One does not know from his write up. The writer is further of the rock-hard view that co-education would lead to competition among males and females for the same job which the writer thinks is against nature! Well sir don’t you think a female can become as good a teacher, or a doctor, or a lawyer or an engineer etc as a male can and if you think she cannot can you come up with some sound data based on empirical research? By the way would people with such thinking like to send their female members of the family to a male doctor or a female one? Don’t they think they have to send their women for medical treatment to a male doctor if a female doctor is not available, as would be the case if their thinking of reserving the medical, engineering and other professions for the males of the world?
In his second argument against co-education titled ‘Psychologically Unfit’, the learned writer says, “Co-education makes students of both genders psychologically unfit. Because when both males and females are educated at the same institution by the same teacher in the same subject, it adversely affects the mentality of both genders. There are certain subjects like mathematics and natural sciences in which boys are good as compared to girls and girls are good in certain subjects like literature, language and arts. This creates psychological differences between both genders which affect adversely the mentality of students and they cannot concentrate much on the study. They try their best to improve in subjects in which he or she is weak, but if he or she can’t improve in those subjects even after hard work they became psychologically ill….”.Saying that there are certain subjects like mathematics etc in which boys are ‘good’ as compared to girls because you heard someone saying so and without coming up with some scientific proof about it is no argument is the most uneducated way of making opinions. There is no scientifically proved data regarding this and even if there is a comparatively better performance or liking among boys for subjects like mathematics etc, this may be the case due to the reason of socially acknowledged rules for males and females and not necessarily due to the natural make up of mind of males and females or due to their biological differences. Saying that a competition among male and female students would lead to psychological problems for females is an argument without legs. Why cannot one think of positive competition among the opposite sexes, leading to creativity and harmony?
We now move on to the third gem of an argument against co-education, titled ‘Stop the Growth of Personality’. The good scholar says, “Co-education can mix the unique qualities of both genders i.e. bravery and courage of males and beauty and shyness of female with one another. When boys and girls are taught in the same institutions then their common upbringing will turn out a standardize product without giving full opportunities for the growth of individuality and uniqueness. They became dependent on one another and forget their unique and individual qualities which stop the growth of individuality in both genders.” By implication the writer seems to be of the view that bravery and courage are qualities which should be reserved for males and beauty and shyness (a great quality for females!) are to be for females. That means the Pakistani nation is not in need of brave and courageous women, surely we need in them beautify and shyness! (For what is education if does not cater to the aesthetic sense of this nation of great men like our dear writer!). One should ask the good writer: Why cannot we go for an education system which helps in the creation of males (and females) who exhibit qualities of bravery, courage and certainly not shyness (for what good does shyness in girls do except boasting and pricking the male ego and chauvinism?)
The next argument that the good writer gives against co-education is titled, ‘Stimulation of Sex Impulse’. The writer says, “Co-education plays a key role in stimulating sexual impulses in both genders. Especially in a country like Pakistan, where religion and traditions do not allow individuals to go near opposite sex. In co-education institutions, both sexes come very close to each other and they can’t control their emotions which undermine both genders physically, educationally and sexually. These sexual impulses can be suppressed or sub limited but cannot be completely extinguished in co-education.” Sexual impulses are not necessarily associated with co-education. This is a natural phenomenon which exhibit itself at a certain point of time in life. These impulses do not go away in case of single-education either. There is enough evidence of sexually motivated offences in single schools especially in the case of boys’ schools, where older and stronger boys tend to sexually harass and even assault younger and weaker boys. In many cases even (and very unfortunately) even teachers are prone to such tendencies. Unfortunately as the concept of sex related shame and the concept of honour are predominantly associated with females in our society, therefore, sexuality among males is usually ignored despite its immense psychologically adverse effects for students studying in male educational institutions.
Let us now move on to the next argument titled ‘Competition in Fashion’, put forward by the learned writer against co-education. The writer says, “Co-education creates a sense of competition in both genders not only in education but in fashion as well. Both sexes try their best to fashion in such manner to show their superiority over the opposite sex. They follow new styles of fashion of one another without any shame which make male look like female and a female, male. Due to competition in fashion they fall in useless activities which affect society adversely.” One can imply that competition among the males and females of this world is wrong on all counts be it in education or fashion! The writer needs to know that fashion is not necessarily an outcome of co-education but reflects a general inclination of the society. Also female student whether in single schools or in co-education are naturally (and socially) inclined to wear fashionable dresses and to look good. It is not as a result of competition with boys. And in any case it is not bad either to look good especially when one is wearing a neat and tidy uniform! As it is only on the university level that students are allowed to wear whatever dress they like to. And a competition in physical sophistication is not that bad an idea either.
In the next argument titled as ‘Aimless Female Education’, the writer says, “The advocates of co-education claim that co-education can improve female literacy rate. But its opponents claim that co-education adversely affect female education. Because the main aim of female education is to train a female for future life of home making, child bearing and maturing the sexual impulses which are needed in the normal course to marriage. For this purpose the curriculum of females should be framed regarding the above mentioned roles of females in the society. But due to co-education they start interest in the subjects in which men are good like medical science, engineering, agriculture etc. which adversely affect both their attitude and the pleasures of future life.” And one should ask the writer: who is an authority fixing the main aim of female education as training them for homemaking, child bearing (do you mean rearing sir?) and ‘maturing the sexual impulses’ whatever is meant by this? And by taking interest in subjects like medicine, engineering and agriculture they are not adversely affecting their attitude and pleasures but may be undermining the pleasure of the male chauvinists by becoming economically independent and socially assertive and thus enabling themselves to live their lives as they wish to and not just to please their male counterpart.
And now the next and probably the biggest gem of wisdom is the argument put forward under the title, ‘Over Work and Laziness in Co-Education’. The wise man writes, “The main aim of education is to exploit the potentials in an individual and it is possible only through continuous study. In co-education both genders compete with one another. Naturally males are too fast in study and learning as compare to females which create a sense of competition in females to compete with males in study and learning. For this purpose females start working hard or over working which can affect adversely the health and education of females. While the boys become lazy or idle in this system which also affect adversely the education of male students. At the age of youth, females require more rest and sympathy than males, and it requires an individual guidance which is given to them only by female teachers, as they know better the problems of female students. In the same manner male requires different treatment i.e. hard intellectual work and hard play too and they require the guidance of male teachers only.” Well the wise man is dead sure of the male superiority in terms of both speed in studies and learning capacities in comparison to the ‘naturally’ inferior females. He does not seem to notice the overwhelming majority of female students who continuously dominate their male counter parts in the various educational board results on the school and college level and even at the university levels, not only in social sciences but also in natural sciences as well. On the contrary he has a pre-planned belief that males are superior to females in intellectuality. In a co-education environment according to our wise man females suffer due to tough competition and males become lazy, one does not know how he is so dead sure of this. I have been writer has been teaching in a co-education environment at the school, college and university level and at all the three levels personally I have found a majority of female students relatively more active, hardworking and enthusiastic as compared to male students, though this may not be universally true. Also the view that female students need guidance from female teachers and males from male teachers, therefore co-education should be abandoned is an absurd idea, for everyone knows that co-education does not merely mean education of boys and girls together but also the presence of both male and female teachers. And in this case male students can go to male teachers for male related issues and females can seek the guidance of female teachers regarding their personal problems.

There are other concerns as well expressed in the article such as undue favours on the bases of gender in co-educational institutions. Instances are offered where a male teacher favours a female student or the vice versa. One should know that educational institutions are training centres for preparing the young ones for their roles in the society. Men and women have to work side by side for a dynamic society. No one can think of institutions such as hospitals and universities which can be exclusively male or female. For instance in the former case it is always good to have people i.e. doctors and nurses etc who have come from co-education and who are already well-prepared to work in a co-operative environment. Neither males nor females can be excluded from the society. It is, therefore, always significant to train them and educate them together for a prosperous, tolerant, civilised and harmonious society. That is how we can enter the modern age as a civilized and rational people. Looking forward and not backward is the way out of the miserable position that we have put ourselves into.

The writer is a Lecturer in Education and Patron, The Education Society, Hazara University, Mansehra.
Email: ilyasjans@yahoo.com

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