NGHE AN, Vietnam - Despite opposition from many students and even youth psychologists, a private school in which boys and girls study in separate classes seems to have significantly lifted academic standards.
The Ngo Tri Hoa Private High School was founded in Dien Chau Town in the central province of Nghe An in 1998.
In 2003, the school had four classes and 240 students. Then school principal Dau Xuan Mai decided to establish separate classes for boys and girls.
Mai said that under the Vietnamese education system, students with good marks automatically went to State schools.
He said that students who arrived at his school often had low learning capacity and were badly behaved. "And love affairs often started between boys and girls," he said.
Realising this, Mai came up with the idea of setting up single-sex classes for both boys and girls to ensure security and order at the school.
"To create this model, I had to research the successful operation of the Dong Khanh and Trung Vuong female schools in Viet Nam - and also of some girls-only schools in Canada," Mai said.
In 2005, he decided to found a pilot class with 50 girls. In the following year, he established pilot classes in all grades at his school.
Today, all classes are run on single sex lines.
"With the new model, students in my school are studying better and better. Furthermore, it is much more convenient for sex education," Mai said.
And a remarkable 62.11 per cent of his students passed the recent graduation exam, an increase by 17 per cent compared with 2004.
The school now has 1,500 students - and eight fold increase in just three years.
Mai said female students waste less time being teased by boy students and were totally focused on studying.
However, while students are segregated on gender lines during classes, in break periods they are allowed to integrate to ensure their balanced development.
Despite its outstanding success, the segregated school still causes much controversy.
Many of the students would prefer to have mixed classes. "Learning in mixed classes is more interesting and provides more motivation. If there are girls in classes, boys will be better behaved," said Ha Canh Sang, a 11th grader.
Nguyen Thi Nga, another 11th grader, said that a year ago her learning capacity was average. Now it is quite good but she still likes learning in mixed classes.
"We will become more competent if we can share with one another," said Nga.
The head teacher in a boys' class, who wants to remain anonymous, said boys in her class were very disobedient.
"During breaks, boys often stand by the windows of girls' classes and flatter them," the teacher said.
"In exams, boys feel they are lucky if girls are sitting in the same room," she added.
Thai Van Thi, a member of the school's management board, said: "Girls' classes are better, but there is a lot of disobedience in boys' classes. Some even relieve themselves in the class."
Ngo Minh Uy, a lecturer at Van Hien Private University's Faculty of Psychology, said violence and rudeness at schools declined if classes were mixed.
"Boys are more generous if they have an opportunity to help girls," he said.
Cao Duc, deputy chairman of the school's parent-teacher association, said that most parents did not agree with the model.
"But it is the school managing board's decision, so we agree," Duc said.
Duc said that as the learning capacity of his boy and other children was not good and they could only enrol at this school.
Deputy professor of psychology Nguyen Ba Minh from Vinh University said in his opinion, separating boys and girls was not natural.
"Mixed classes help students establish good feelings and virtues," Minh said, adding that he believed single-sex classes had more negative factors than positive ones.
"Such classes affect the formation of students' personality. They may solve some problems in the short term, but in the long term, this model of education is not reasonable," Minh said. -Viet Nam News/ANN