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Helping Boys Become Educated Men in Barbados
By Cara Mason
Inter Press Service

    BRIDGETOWN, Apr 25 (IPS) - Education officials in Barbados are ready and willing to rescue the nation's boys from educational obscurity, but they're just not sure how to go about doing so.
     For close to a decade now girls here have been doing better than boys at every level of the educational system.
     Not only are they getting better results in the Common Entrance Examination, the method by which primary school students are placed in secondary schools, but they also outperform the boys all the way through high school. At the tertiary level, the story is the same.

   Chief Education Officer Wendy Griffith Watson said one way the country has tried to deal with the problem at the primary level is through a system similar to ''affirmative action''.

     For the Common Entrance Examination, poorly performing boys are given the opportunity to attend what is termed the ''most favored or older secondary schools in Barbados''
   Students who score highest in the examination are often placed in these older and more favored secondary schools. However, if the high school is offering 120 places, for example, the Education Ministry invariably sends them 60 boys and 60 girls, although the girls' scores are much higher than the boys'.
     That kind of tinkering has not yet begun at the tertiary level.
     Principal of the Cave Hill Campus of the University of the West Indies, Sir Keith Hunte, said while his institution had recorded a near 10 percent increase in student enrollment for 1999/2000 academic year, females continued to dominate in every faculty except Science and Technology.
     Statistics contained in the principal's annual report, showed that on campus enrollment stands at 3,995, some 354 more than 1998/99 when the figure was 3,641.
     In the Faculty of Social Sciences, which accounts for the majority of students, enrollment of females almost doubled that of males -- 1, 200 versus 600 males, while in the Faculty of Humanities, the admission of females was three times that of males. It was the same in the Law Faculty, with over 200 females compared with only about 75 males.
     "We compliment the women of our society for taking the initiative to pursue higher education, and while we compliment them and say 'well done, keep going', we have to find out why the boys are left behind,'' said historian Prof Hilary Beckles.
     ''Barbados cannot expect to maintain sustainable development if by and large our young men are becoming useless,'' he added.
     But the poor performance of boys is only part of the problem facing the educational system of this eastern Caribbean country. At the primary level all children are performing below standard, education officials say.
     Results of the 1999 examination -- sat by 3,900 children aged 10 to 12 year old -- showed that the majority of students scored between 40 and 50 percent in Mathematics. In English, 1,000 students scored between 50 and 70 percent, some 800 could barely muster a 30 percent grade while 350 scored zero on comprehension.
     Deputy Chief Education officer in the Ministry of Education Glenroy Straughn pointed out that in both English and Mathematics, the girls got the better grades.
     Parent Ricardo Blenman thinks he knows why the boys are doing so poorly. ''Any time boys are placed in the classroom with the fairer sex, performance is affected. Reason: the boys are too busy admiring their counterparts or competing with each other for the sometimes innocent and unassuming girls.''
     This view is supported by Prime Minister Owen Arthur who believes that co-ed schools are not in the best interest of boys, whom he said, need more powerful male role models at schools.
    ''Our main problem in society is the under-achievement of young males. The University of the West Indies has a programme to try to explain why young men are doing so poorly as compared to young women and we have to be sensitive to the fact that the socialization of young men must be right in order for us to produce young, good adult males,'' he said.
  Arthur however said there was nothing inherently wrong with co-ed systems, once the individuality and the difference between boys and girls will be seen as a positive rather than a negative.
  But educationist Prof Anthony Layne believes it is the school and not the gender of the student that determines academic performance.
  Findings of a study -- Gender and School Achievement -- conducted by three education researchers among more than 700 secondary school students found that performance was not based on the sex of the student, but on what goes on in the school.
  Layne said the government would soon be presenting a final proposal to the Caribbean Development Bank for funding for a comprehensive University of the West Indies study on the impact of co-education on the performance of male and female students in the Caribbean.
  This article is free of copyright restrictions and can be reproduced provided that Inter Press Service is credited.
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