Why boys and girls should study separately

Segregated education may have a positive effect on pupils because boys and girls perceive the same information in different ways, some Russian experts claim. Source: ITAR-TASS

Segregated education may have a positive effect on pupils because boys and girls perceive the same information in different ways, some Russian experts claim. Source: ITAR-TASS

All parents dream of an elite education for their children, but very few realize that this does not necessarily depend on how much money you pay. The slope of the school desk or a fountain pen can play a more important role – and so can the segregation of boys and girls.

The classrooms for elementary students at Moscow School No. 760 are different from the typical ones. Alongside the usual school desks are special benches where students can do their schoolwork standing up. Every fifteen minutes, they switch places – those who were sitting stand up, and vice-versa.

In addition to this, several times during the lesson students do a special workout and an eye-training exercise – they “catch” the light-beams from different light-bulbs around the classrooms. It sounds like no big deal. But the results show differently – if 23 percent of Moscow schoolchildren suffer from short-sightedness, only 12 percent have it at School No. 760.

They have something else special too – the children only use fountain pens, which have to be dipped in ink. Apparently, letting first-graders write with ballpoint pens can cause deleterious health problems.

“Research shows that children who use ballpoint pens have delayed breathing and irregular heartbeat. After 20 minutes of continuous writing, signs of angina develop,” said the school’s director, Vladimir Garmash. “But when writing with a fountain pen, the child’s hand works in impulse mode – first tension, then relaxation – and no damage to their health arises.”

Another hazard for first-graders is the school desk –especially a desk that does not slope – which forces the child into a constrained and tense posture for long periods of time. All of these simply implemented and affordable methods were developed more than 30 years ago, through the research of Russian professor Vladimir Bazarny. He reached the conclusion that most adult-age health complaints start at school age – especially during the earliest years of schooling.

The most significant factor is stress, which children suffer from when they are deprived of the opportunity to move. If they have to sit for long periods in an artificial posture and behind an uncomfortable desk, a kind of “nowhere to go” nervous energy emerges, which results in burn-out and ill-health. This can show up as an enlargement of the thyroid gland and as problems with the heart and the spine. Yet, if the child can change posture and do some work standing up, such problems do not appear.

Another important principle of Bazarny’s methodology is segregated education for boys and girls into parallel classes – especially at primary schools. Boys and girls are able to play together during their breaks, but during lessons, they are divided into different classrooms.

Long ago, in pre-Revolutionary Russia, all schools were divided by gender. However, the Bolsheviks abandoned this practice as a “relic of the past.” After World War II, there was an attempt to return to segregated classrooms, but it did not last for long. These days, segregated education is considered a facet of elite education – there is no coincidence that it is practiced in the most expensive private schools in Britain, Germany, Japan and the United States.

Now, thanks to Professor Bazarny’s research, a few schools in Russia have returned to this system. The results have been astounding, especially in cases where parallel and combined classes have existed simultaneously – in other words, in cases where comparisons can be made.

At the “Harmonia” Lyceum in Zheleznogorsk (in Krasnoyarsk Region, Siberia), they have practiced Bazarny’s methodology for more than 20 years. While mixed classes might have produced one outstanding pupil per class in that period, the segregated classes came to consist nearly 25–35 percent of such outstanding pupils. While only 46–52 percent of boys in mixed classes were found suitable for military service, 100 percent of boys in segregated classes met the criteria.

What secret lies behind such widely differing results? Dr. Natalya Kuindzhi – a doctor of medical science working at the Russian Institute of Hygiene and Children’s Health at the Russian Academy of Medicine – has been researching the physiological results of segregated education for many years. Her conclusions are clear: the whole issue is connected to the differing rate of mental development between boys and girls.

Although right-hemisphere brain development dominates in pre-schoolers, by the time children first go to school, the situation is already changing. Girls display significant left-brain development, while boys continue to be dominated by right-brain activity.

It is necessary to take into account that the brain’s right hemisphere is responsible for activities involving creativity and imagination, while the left hemisphere governs logical thinking. Later on, these differences balance out, but in the early stages of schooling they play an important role, in that boys and girls have differing perceptions of information.

Boys see things more figuratively and emotionally: they can more easily do creative work. They do not see mistakes in words. They see information holistically, rather than in detail. For boys, the idea is more important than establishing rules.

By contrast, girls find remembering guidelines easier. They can take down dictations more easily, they see mistakes in words more clearly, and work well within a system. This all puts girls at a greater advantage in a school situation. They fully meet teachers’ expectations in standard exercises and are primarily directed toward obedience and rote learning.

Boys find it hard to compete. By Kuindzhi’s data, it is hardly surprising that, for every one girl who is failing at school, there are 5–6 similarly failing boys whom teachers have written off as either lazy or stupid. None will ever know what these boys might have achieved in life – neither the boys themselves, nor their parents.

“Boys dislike long introductory discussions – they want to get drawing immediately. But with girls, you need to spend time explaining what they are supposed to do,” said Marina Reznikova, a teacher of drawing at Moscow Grammar School No. 1257, where they have practiced segregated classes for many years.

The results of this kind of approach to education are very convincing. For the last 20 years, the children leaving Grammar School No. 1257 have all, without exception, gone on to higher education, with many going on to the most prestigious universities. It may be surprising, but medical research shows that there are significantly improved standards of physical health and work performance at Grammar School No. 1257. In most schools, by comparison, this is exactly the opposite.

Around 2,000 schools in Russia today operate on the principles established by Bazarny. Perhaps this number is too few? For example, Grammar School No. 1257 has almost double the number of children whose parents want to enroll them as it has places to offer. Parents are ready to drive their children there from the opposite side of the city. Teachers say that modern-day mothers and fathers are very well-informed and know exactly what they want from schools.

The question here is not just about health – although this is an important issue. Segregated education offers an individual approach given to each child, affording them better opportunities to realize their full potential. This is what is known as an elite education.

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