IN the Media: Education Review. 27 August 2021
When it comes to the benefits of an all-girls education – and there are many – there is one that I believe sits firmly above the rest, and that’s the confidence that all girls’ schools instill in their students.
From the age of eight, girls’ confidence tends to dip below that of their male peers, falling by up to 30% between the ages of 8 and 14. Sadly, this gap doesn’t close until women reach their 80s. There are a number of factors that contribute to this drop in confidence.
Psychologists speculate that as girls approach adolescence, “rumination” or “dwelling extensively on negative feelings” might contribute to them becoming more cautious and less likely to take risks. The idea of perfection, purity and goodness, honed by decades of cultural influence, also plays a role in the degradation of girls’ confidence, while the media’s tendency to showcase highlights over realistic depictions of women can also impact adolescents today.
However, there is extensive research that demonstrates there is one group of girls that retains higher levels of confidence despite these influences — those educated in an all-girls environment.
The 2018 Hands up for Gender Equality study by the University of Queensland found that the top three activities correlated to self-confidence in young women and men are travel, team sport, and participation in leadership roles and leadership development. Without the presence of boys and the increased selfconsciousness often attached to this, girls feel more empowered to participate fully in these activities. In fact, the same study revealed that girls educated in single-sex schools are equally as self-confident as boys educated in single-sex schools. This could lead us to conclude that girls’ self-confidence is being eroded by
the effects of gender biases and stereotyping found in some co-educational settings.
Girls’ schools challenge unhelpful and harmful gender roles by providing a safe environment for girls to try new things, take risks, and pursue excellence in any area they choose, including traditionally male dominated subjects such as mathematics and the sciences. I would go as far to say that in many all girls’ schools, it simply doesn’t occur to students that they can’t do or be what they desire.
A separate 2018 study by the University of California found that not only were graduates from all girls’ schools more likely to consider themselves critical thinkers, but displayed higher levels of self-confidence than their co-educated counterparts. With more than 30 years’ experience in education, this is not surprising to me, as without the pressures and increased scrutiny (real and perceived) that can occur in coeducational settings, girls feel less inhibited to forge their own path.
The self-confidence girls formulate in these years is particularly important when it comes to developing leadership skills. We live in a time where a stubborn wage gap persists and where the number of women in senior leadership roles continues to lag behind that of men. Therefore, young women need to be resilient and self-assured in their abilities and capacity to lead if they’re to finally even out these statistics.
As the saying goes, “You can’t be what you can’t see”, which is why at Strathcona we expose our students to a range of female leaders from all fields, while also providing them with opportunities to lead in ways both large and small. Our Year Nine TC Envision program sees students work in small groups to create reallife businesses with the support and guidance of successful female business owners, equipping them with valuable and sought-after skills like entrepreneurialism, critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, creativity and resilience. Skills that will equip them well for whatever path they choose to pursue.
Ultimately, a child’s learning environment impacts their view of themselves and their place in the world, which is why we strive to create a safe and supportive space where our girls have the opportunity and the drive to try new things, discover their talents, and develop a strong sense of self and the confidence that will enable them to strive for their goals, regardless of the environment they find themselves in or its gender makeup.
By Marise McConnaghy