Great break, a hell of a noise. If you mean it. But at St. Ursula Gymnasium in Freiburg im Breisgau, one of about 120 girls’ schools still found in Germany, is surprisingly quiet, even during breaks. A little more than 1000 girls study here. In front of the seven-story school building on the street side, a more functional building built in the late 1960s, high school students eat their lunch in an open space with colorful benches. In the schoolyard between the so-called pink building, the mezzanine and the main building, a couple of fifth-graders are playing on the roof. Apart from a scream, you hardly hear anything.
“We have fewer disciplinary problems here than I know from my time as a teacher at a mixed school that is much quieter in every way,” says Thomas Ernst, who teaches French and history. Maybe the noise level in the schoolyard rises when the two football goals are up. These are to be delivered over the next few weeks along with the basketball hoop, table tennis tables and several unicycles. You can then kick off right in front of the newly built auditorium with the large glass front. “Our students desperately wanted the goals. We have a couple of girls here who love playing football,” said Thomas Hummel, director of the Catholic High School.
Some schoolgirls think they can act more confidently without boys
Girls who like to play football. As a participant in the student engineering academy, a collaboration with regional companies and the Freiburg seminar for mathematics and science. Girls who build solar carts in the Solar Challenge win prizes in math competitions and play drums in the school orchestra as a matter of course. Girls who take on the male roles in the theater club’s performances, who serve in the school service. Actually nothing special, especially not in 2022. Or is it?
“Our students do everything that is normally transferred to both sexes. It is completely normal and everyday food for them,” says Silvia Spitznagel, who teaches economics, geography and sports. “We put the girls in roles they would not otherwise have,” says Hummel, who has headed the school for 18 years. “Monoeducation is a great opportunity to support children in their personal development,” he says. Only at the course level, ie in eleventh and twelfth grade, could he imagine that mixed courses would work well. Collaboration with neighboring high schools has often been considered, but so far it has failed due to the enormous organizational effort.
How do the students view it themselves, what is it like to learn only with girls? Charlotta is in the middle of her A-levels and is part of Teater-AG’s ensemble. In fact, says Charlotta, she’s pretty reserved. “But speaking in front of people, being confident on stage, being a strong girl – I would not have learned all that so well in a school with boys,” she says. Kate, who also graduated from high school, adds: “I’m not perceived as a girl here, gender does not matter.” And Estera from eleventh grade says, “I can develop here just like it’s good for me.”
And that would not have been possible in a mixed school? Estera shakes her head resolutely. She thinks there is simply better support here, especially in math and other science subjects. As proof, she mentions that just as many girls in the upper classes chose to focus on mathematics as they did in German – there are three courses for each subject.
When asked what she would like to do later in life, sixth-grader Nazarin has an immediate answer: she wants to be a brain surgeon. Jara, her classmate, would also like to become a doctor, but the thesis is still unclear.
A key point of criticism is that schools for girls only are based on gender stereotypes
At first glance, the concept works – if girls learn with girls, they have more confidence in science. Jürgen Budde, professor of pedagogy at the European University in Flensburg, is not a supporter of monoeducation. “School systems should be targeted at everyone,” he says. “According to our research, the assumption that girls as a group have specific characteristics that are different from boys’ is not correct. It is a gender stereotypical assumption.” He is bothered by the deficit argument: “It says what someone can not or does not have – such as competence in STEM subjects. Maybe teachers should arrange their lessons differently and more differentiated so that the content reaches everyone.”
When it comes to teaching at Freiburg’s girls’ school, most teachers agree: It’s easier. “Precisely because we have fewer discipline problems, we get on better with the material,” says teacher Thomas Ernst. “But sometimes I’m worried that it’s too cozy here. As a teacher, I see the danger of people sneaking in like that.” Principal Hummel also knows: “One must be careful not to end up on an island where life rages outside. We want the girls to have backbone when they leave our school.”
Dietfried Scherer believes that it is very beneficial for many girls to learn only among girls. He is the director of the school foundation of the Archdiocese of Freiburg, which also includes St. Ursula High School. Of the 32 primary schools in 14 places, nine are girls’ schools. With the German school reform of 1968, state mono-educational schools were opened to both sexes in many federal states. Private providers could decide for themselves whether they wanted to work co-pedagogically. “So far, we have not had that situation anywhere where the concept needs to be reconsidered,” Scherer says. In other words, the demand is there. Incidentally, the various waves of the feminist movement have, according to Scherer, had a positive effect on parents’ interest in schools that consist exclusively of girls.
The fact that St.-Ursula-Gymnasium in Freiburg is a girls’ school is no longer necessarily an argument as to why parents or pupils choose this school. But on the other hand, the good location so close to the railway station, the mathematical-scientific, linguistic and musical-artistic profile and the open atmosphere. “Girls’ schools are privately funded. They are especially sought after by people who have enough cultural capital and skills to plan educational opportunities for their children,” says educator Budde. “Ultimately, it’s about the quality of the educational work.”