Let’s have a serious discussion about coeducation

Male teachers have been hired by many Saudi government girls’ schools to teach at the intermediate and secondary levels.

 


Khaled Al-Fadhili


Al-Hayat

 


 


Male teachers have been hired by many Saudi government girls’ schools to teach at the intermediate and secondary levels. Apart from entering schools for girls, these male teachers have, from a professional standpoint, become colleagues of female teachers. All of this is happening in a country that does not implement coeducation and which resists the mixing of genders at the workplace.



Not only do Saudis lag behind other countries but they also pay a very high price due to their inability to sit down and seriously discuss the issue of coeducation despite the fact that prior to the establishment of the ministries of education, there was open mixing between the two genders in various sectors including the marine, industrial and agricultural sectors.



In the case of education, we have paradoxically outlawed coeducation within the Kingdom but have approved of it internationally, happily sending our boys and girls on scholarships abroad. The same can be said for movie theaters. Banned in the Kingdom, Saudis take advantage of every opportunity they get to watch movies in theaters across the Arab world and beyond.



Previously, men who were hired to teach in girls’ schools were blind. Their presence was welcomed and acceptable. Even though this practice was stopped long ago, many women still remember the amazing level of alertness blind teachers showed. As far as I know, blind male teachers were restricted to teaching the Holy Qur’an and religious subjects. There were also strict instructions for classroom doors to be left open during their presence. Since men have been allowed to enter girls’ schools, the law must recognize this as a legal precedent for coeducation in the education structure.



Our grandfathers and fathers lived at a time when there was open mixing of the genders in commercial markets. In some cases, saleswomen outnumbered their male counterparts. Some of these markets still exist today, including a small section of Al-Balad market in Jeddah. Meanwhile, traditional markets in Saudi cities continue to feature women sitting on the pavement selling their goods. None of this has ever created the sort of uproar the more recent government decision to find ways to employ Saudi women in retail stores has.



Opponents of gender mixing insist that segregation is in accordance with Islamic principles but we tell them that Islam has not done this in countries that have more Muslims than we do. Also, segregation was, speaking in relative terms, recently imposed on our land when some men fought against coeducation as the basis of modern education. These men wasted the state’s resources to serve the theory of segregation and we, as a nation, became occupied in spreading ignorance and backwardness. As far as jobs are concerned, we took opportunities to find employment away from our daughters and granted them to expatriate males, increasing unemployment and the burden on the state.



We were once a mixed society and we will, once again, return to our true roots. All mistaken theories live for decades and then disappear along with those who created them. Coeducation will return to our schools and universities and the mixing of genders will return to our markets. When that happens, ignorance and job shortages will also disappear.