So what’s the problem with our Boys?

By Russell Williams

Some readers may be aware that the Ministry of Education in St. Kitts has decided to pilot segregating boys from girls in some primary schools in St. Kitts, and My daughter’s school is one of the schools in the pilot.

There is concern that the boys are under-performing and falling behind the girls by the time they reach high school and never catch up. In an attempt to remedy this situation teaching them separately from Grade 3, is being attempted.

At a meeting for parents of grade 3 students this week, there was a lively debate as to the motives, the need and the respective merits or otherwise for separating the students. Quite often, I hear teachers, principals and education administrators complain that everyone seems to think the nation’s problems can be solved in schools. The school or education system is therefore overwhelmed with various programmes, from Anger Management and Conflict Resolution to Spelling Bees.

While I agree that children might be the right audience for bringing about some sort of change in the future, I think the venue for addressing many of the social problems needs to shift from the children’s school to their homes. I know this might not be a popular thing to say, and quite frankly, I think the Ministry of Education – or Government – may be afraid of offending their supporters and therefore seeks to side step the issue.

When we consider that there are 23 girls in my daughter’s class, 12 parents attended the meeting, there are 21 boys however, only 7 parents arrived to hear issues concerning their education, and as in the case of the girls only one father attended. If we are to take the level of attendance as an indication of parental interest in the education of our boys then it’s clear we have a problem, and where that problem is rooted!

In my meeting the mothers debated the situation and some cited ulterior motives for the separation, with the general concern being that girls may be neglected and fall behind, as the boys receive more support and attention.

My observation is that this situation of boys under-achieving is nothing new and certainly not confined to St. Kitts-Nevis or the Caribbean, but is also an issue in more developed countries such as the UK and US. In these countries white boys are just ahead of black boys who, sad to say are bringing up the rear. But why is this?

One possible explanation is the loss of traditional employment opportunities, such as heavy manufacturing, steel mills, car factories and mining for light manufacturing, high-tech and other service based jobs. This has left those more vocationally, able students with fewer employment opportunities, and in some cases these young boys have seen their fathers lose their jobs and ability to support their families.

What is clear to most of us is that this is yet another example of a battle being fought on the wrong battle-ground, as one mother said, “they’re trying to solve a problem with the wrong group of people, the school isn’t where the problem is!” However, since the government is unable or unwilling to fight that battle, perhaps this is the best alternative; you pick the fights you think can win!

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