Editorial: A problem faced by all

The results of the recent Grade Six National Assessment (GSNA) for 2017 has shone a spotlight on the academic performance of boys versus girls and private versus public schools.  It just happens to be the same spotlight that is powered up every year, but this year, the intensity is driven by the accelerating trend line.

On the issue of gender.  Girls vastly outperformed the boys.  The top 10 was an exclusive girls club.  There were only 16 boys in the top 50 and just 40 boys in the top 100.  The type of school also demonstrated a wide gap in performance.  There was only one public school student in the top 10 (tying for ninth spot) with overall representation extremely low overall. It would be interesting to get a full statistical analysis of all the results from this year’s examination so that we could all sing from the same hymn sheet.

Experts in the field of education have already made pronouncements on the results and have attempted to address the issues for the public.  The President of the Antigua & Barbuda Union of Teachers (A&BUT), Ashworth Azille has said that all the major stakeholders in the society need to come together to stop the trend of underperforming boys.   More to the point, Mr Azille said, “the sad reality is that the school alone cannot raise that child.  The school alone cannot give that child all the tools he or she requires to be successful in life and so it requires the home, the social services, all the nongovernmental organisations and the church, in conjunction with the school, [to] come together so that we can best prescribe what would be a winning solution for our boys.”

Such a common sense statement cannot be debated; however, we are of the opinion that the home is the most important contributor to success or failure in a young person’s life.  The guidance, encouragement and support that a child receives at home has the greatest influence on the level of success achieved by children.  That, of course, is not an expert opinion but rather a common sense one.

While speaking on the performance of public school students, Sandy Lewis, Principal of the Five Islands Primary School touched on the subject.  She said, “… as a principal of a government school, one of the biggest challenges faced is parental involvement … the parent alone makes a huge difference mentally, physically and academically.”

Supporting that theory was the Principal of the Freetown Primary, Lucina Nathaniel, who stated, “The children in the Top 100 are successful because of parental involvement.”  Ms Nathaniel made note of the positive effects of supervision by pointing out that students who stayed back at school were successful in completing their homework, but when sent home to do it, “the lack of parental supervision leads to their work being incomplete.”

The spotlight and efforts may be trying to find a solution to the performance differences between boys and girls and public and private schools but we think the root problem lies in the family.  A consistent theme with high performing youth is the strong support that they receive from their family.  And while we do further investigation, we are fairly sure that the converse is true.

Naturally, we are referring to a huge social problem.  One in which parents have abdicated much of their role as parents, especially in the area of education.  There is no quick fix to this problem because it will take a seismic shift in the core values of our community.

This is where we see the need for stakeholders to assemble to chart a way towards a brighter future.  And ironically, it is going to rely on education.  We need to educate people that parenting is more than having a child.  Becoming a parent has responsibilities and requires sacrifices.   Every generation should strive to make the next generation better and a great part of that better future is their education.

If you think that this is a herculean task, then you are right; but consider the alternative.  There is a very famous quote that should be the inspiration for everyone when it comes to education and being involved as a parent.  It has been attributed to a number of people including the former president of Harvard University, Derek Bok, and the woman who wrote as “Ann Landers”.  It is simple, to the point and worth remembering every time you look into the face of a child.  Eight simple words that state, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance.”

Let us use that as a mantra to improve our involvement with our children’s education and as a foundation in our push for a better tomorrow.

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