Coed or not, it’s our choice

Sabria S. Jawhar
Sabria S. Jawhar

Sabria S. Jawhar

By : Sabria S. Jawhar

Apparently the good folks in government in Ontario, Canada, didn’t get the memo that colonialism is no longer fashionable.

There’s a bit of a dust-up in Ontario’s higher education circles that Algonquin College opened a men-only campus in Jazan. Ontario’s Premier Kathleen Wynne complained last month that not permitting Saudi women on Algonquin’s Jazan campus was “unacceptable.”

Claire Tortola, a union steward at Algonquin College in Ontario, said the college appears to be violating its policy to provide equal access to education. “If students have equal access to different types of education, then we’re really bringing our values to Saudi Arabia,” said. “But if we separate them not by choice but, basically, by force into two different colleges where there’s no interaction, then we’re not really bring that level of equality that we’re espousing ourselves.”

It’s all well and good that Canadian institutions want to bring their values to Saudi Arabia. After all, who doesn’t want Canadian values so we can be one big homogeneous planet?

We have those fabulous American institutions Starbucks, KFC and Hardee’s. We have Canadian movies on TV. Many of us speak English and many of us educated in Canadian schools speak with a Canadian accent. Who doesn’t want to be Canadian? Then there is that thorn in the paw of Canadian higher education. Saudi culture and Saudi values inconveniently get in the way. For cultural and religious reasons we segregate boys and girls and men and women. There is a demand for single-sex colleges and universities in Saudi Arabia and the demand for female-only campuses continues to grow. When Saudi men and women go abroad to attend universities they gladly apply to coeducational and participate in mixed classrooms. That’s because those are Canadian values and as guests in the Great Frozen North we accept and adhere to Canadian values.

Yet to Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne, Saudi Arabia remains backward for wanting to uphold its own values. How is this for backwardness: American and British studies consistently find that boys and girls develop differently and that boys and girls are treated differently in coed schools. Girls, studies find, thrive better in single-sex schools.

The Guardian reported last week that the Department for Education in England found that 75 percent of the students at single-sex schools performed better in English and Mathematics compared with 55 percent in coed institutions.

Timo Hannay, founder of SchoolDash, which collects and analyzes education data from the Department for Education, told The Guardian, “The overall picture that emerges is one in which single-sex secondary schooling for girls does seem to have some benefits …” He added that, “It also raises the interesting question of why girls, perhaps among other groups, seem to benefit more than boys from single-sex schooling — and what, if anything, the majority of mixed schools might be able to learn from this.”

This, of course, is not really the entire reason why the Saudi school system segregates boys and girls, but obviously we can take lessons from the British schools that girls do indeed have equal access to education, and, in fact, outperform boys. In Islam, we follow the different but equal dictum. We are not denying Saudi women anything, but they simply have access in another location at another college.

If Algonquin College officials get their way, then it will have a women-only campus in the near future. College administrators have applied on at least two occasions for a women’s college, but have met with rejection. They are trying with a third request and it appears they will soon have a building ready for female students once the Ministry of Education approves the project.

It’s a wonderful thing that Algonquin College has policies in place to give all prospective students equal access, but their campus is not in Ontario. If by ignoring this part of the policy has no direct impact on Saudi women obtaining equal opportunities for a Canadian education, then there is no harm. Saudi Arabian students are not required to compromise their own values while at the same time enjoy and benefit from a largely Canadian education.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in the Column section are their own and do not reflect RiyadhVision’s point-of-view.


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