Media Release: 13 September 2016

There’s no research to show that boys and girls learn differently in the classroom and we need to reconsider the impact of gender biases in single-sex education, an international expert will tell the Australian Psychological Society (APS) Congress, held in Melbourne, 13-16 September.

Diane Halpern, a Psychology Professor, Emerita, at Claremont McKenna College, USA, and past president of the American Psychological Association, says sex-segregated education lacks scientific support but evidence shows it leads to gender stereotyping and sexism.

Professor Halpern, a psychology researcher and author who has specialised in sex, gender and cognition for 30 years, says a recent meta-analysis and other reviews of hundreds of studies involving more than 1.5 million students have failed to find any advantages of single-sex education.

However, she says evidence shows people become more stereotyped in their beliefs about other groups when they are segregated.

“The assumption is - ‘I can’t go to the school with the girls because the girls don’t learn the way I do’ or ‘I can’t go to school with the boys because the boys don’t learn the way I do’, but the underlying biology, physiology and social psychology of learning is exactly the same.

“In fact, children are going to live in a world that’s far more diverse than ever before - they are going to have to interact with females and males, they are going to have to understand that sometimes the girls are going to outscore the boys and that sometimes the boys will outscore the girls.

“After graduation, virtually everyone will work for and with females and males - students need to learn mutual respect and the social skills of interacting. They need to learn how to interact cooperatively and competitively and these are important things that are learned in school - school is the only place where certain kinds of interactions occur.

“We don’t have sex segregated workplaces so why would we have sex segregated schools?”

“It’s all too easy to say ‘boys are like this and girls are like that’, but it’s simply not true. Our goal is to help each individual develop to her or his full potential,” she says.

Professor Diane Halpern will discuss sex differences in cognitive abilities at the 2016 APS Congress, held in Melbourne from September 13 - 16, 2016.

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Notes to editors:

Professor Diane Halpern will give her keynote presentation from 9.45 - 10.45am on Wednesday September 14, and is available for interview.

For more information, or to arrange an interview, call the Rebecca Matthews on 0435 896 444 or Karen Coghlan on 0411 930 512 or email media@psychology.org.au. Find us on Twitter: @AustPsych