By Ghadeer Ghloum
KUWAIT: The issue of boys and girls mixing at schools in Kuwait has been a controversial topic over the years. Many people have differing opinions about the effect of coeducation on the academic performance and moral behavior of students. Some support coeducation and argue that it provides an opportunity for both boys and girls to work collaboratively, which can improve academic performance. Coeducation also encourages equality and mutual respect between both sexes, which is a necessary skill in the workplace and in society as a whole.
Experiencing coeducation provides a more realistic representation of the society we live in, where both men and women work together and interact on a regular basis. On the other hand, opponents of coeducation argue that it may lead to inappropriate behavior and distract students from their studies. They argue that teenagers may become prone to distractions and hormonal impulses at this age and may find it challenging to focus on academics. Moreover, opponents argue that coeducation may lead to depraved behaviors such as sexual abuse and immorality. This can be detrimental to societal and family values, which are deeply ingrained in the Kuwaiti culture.
To further examine this issue, Kuwait Times spoke to Islamic teacher Abdulrahman Sayir Al-Khaldi, English teacher Ghadeer Ghafour and high school student Al-Kawther Ghloum. In Islamic teachings, modesty and decency are highly valued, and it is believed that coeducation can compromise these values. Islam also places great emphasis on the physical differences between men and women, and it is believed that coeducation can lead to temptation and immoral behavior. Khaldi began with a verse from the Holy Quran — “And the male is not like the female” (3:36), then explained that when one looks at this verse, they can understand the differences between males and females.
These differences do not mean that one gender is better than the other, he said. Rather, each gender has been distinguished by God in several ways. For example, in education, we find females often outperform males due to their ability to concentrate and their strong memory skills. Looking back in history, we find that women were often deprived of their right to education, which goes against the teachings of our religion, he added.
Khaldi cited the example of Aisha (wife of the Prophet (PBUH)), who one of the most knowledgeable companions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Many of the companions would seek knowledge from her. He also said after giving women the right to education, our communities have chosen to maintain separation between males and females in order to give each gender more freedom and prevent them from facing embarrassment, harassment or distraction from other matters. Additionally, this aligns with the religious view on the mixing of sexes. Therefore, since every society has its own nature, our communities have chosen to protect their children by avoiding the risks of temptation, while abiding by honorable customs and traditions, Khaldi explained.
Ghafour supports coeducation, saying: “Coeducation at school has a lot of benefits for both genders in terms of socializing. Especially at a younger age, it is very crucial that both genders know and accept each other’s differences. By doing this, we are allowing students to have mutual respect and confidence from the opposite gender and eventually prepare them for future jobs.”
According to Ghafour, coeducation prepares children for the realities of the real world. Coeducational classrooms reflect the diversity of society and work, and students learn to accept and value people of different backgrounds and perspectives. This prepares them for the demands of the real world, where they will need to work effectively and respectfully with a diverse group of people, she said.
“Despite the fact that stereotypes do exist, a coeducational environment is vital to build a sense of acceptance and prevent any kind of stereotyping of traditional gender roles. Certainly, boys and girls think differently, so by studying together, we are forming a strong perspective during classroom discussions. As a result, these collaborative skills will stay with them for a long time as they move to college, as well as benefit them at work,” Ghafour said. Giving people access to a broader range of experiences helps them break down gender barriers, explore new interests and develop a more diverse range of skills at work and social life, she added.
Al-Kawther told Kuwait Times about her experiences as a student at a public high school in Kuwait. “Both sides have weaknesses and strengths. It is true that being a teenager and having hormonal imbalances can lead to bad actions. Also, being Muslims, we know that our religion prohibits being around a stranger from the other sex unless it is for an appropriate reason that necessitates interaction with the other gender. Another factor that may give reason to separating boys and girls is the mindset of many people in our society, as being around a stranger from the other gender may ruin one’s reputation,” she said.
Al-Kawther highlighted the role of societal ideals, besides Islamic rules, in encouraging segregation between male and female students. However, she sees that coeducation helps students develop a higher sense of self-esteem and confidence by learning in a supportive and inclusive environment. “The fact that there are no co-ed public schools in Kuwait affects our confidence and socializing skills due to not being used to interacting with the other gender. I know this from experience. Another thing is that if boys and girls are segregated by force in schools, they would still find a way to interact with each other if they wanted to,” she pointed out.
Al-Kawther suggested leaving the option open for parents and students to choose, rather than forcibly segregating the sexes. “Like private English schools, public schools can provide the option and leave it to the students and their parents to decide. Or maybe bring both genders in one building but separate their classrooms. This might help them coexist with each other in the long run,” she said. While there are valid arguments for both sides, it is important to recognize that ultimately the decision should be based on providing a safe environment for all students to learn effectively, while also promoting respect, equality and morality among students.