Editorial: Gender differences in education

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We would like to begin by congratulating the top student for the 2018 Grade Six National Assessment, Stephanie Archibald of Baptist Academy.  Stephanie secured a mark of 374 out of 400 and we are sure that her family, her school and her friends are very proud of her accomplishment.  It is worth noting that the top five was a tight cluster with only eight marks separating first from fifth including a tie for second with scores of 370. 
As a community we should all pay close attention to the results of these difficult exams.  No matter your personal opinion on the examination system, they do provide insight into how our youngsters are doing.  For some time, we have highlighted the gender performance trend in our top performers and 2018 continues that trend.  Simply put, the girls are outperforming the boys.  A look at some basic statistics, and it is easy to see that we need to identify the reason for this trend and put measures in place to address it so that our young men are not left behind.
A quick look at the list of top-10 students shows that the majority were girls.  The first young man secured seventh place.  With the top 10 including two-way ties at second and eighth, and a five-way tie for tenth, there were a total of 14 students with top-ten marks.  Of that amount, only four were boys.  Outside of 7th place, the other three boys were part of the five-way tie for 10th.  The percentages get a bit better as we expand, with seven boys in the top-20 (21 students because of a 20th place tie) and 21 in the top-50.  Overall, the top-100 contained 38 boys and 63 girls (101 students because of a 100th place tie).  So, roughly 38 percent of our top-100 were boys. 
At least this year, a boy was able to gain entry into the top-10 club because last year it was a whitewash, and the male representation in the top-50 improved from 16 last year to 21 this year. Overall, the boys have lost two of their overall 40 top-10 spots to the girls from 2017 to 2018.  This is not a good trend and we must examine what is going on in order to implement a solution.
From our perspective, the greatest change that can be made in our primary school-age children’s lives is the amount of support that the children get at home.  It is easy to blame the government, the schools, the teachers and even the children, but the overwhelming evidence points to a positive home environment as having the greatest influence on a child’s performance. There is no doubt in our minds that each of the other factors play roles in performance but we must acknowledge that the common thread is the education system, and the difference is the home and our society.  
Logic tells us that the variable is where we should look to change individual performance in order to make a difference.  How do we reconcile that, in general, kids receive the same education when they sit in front of the same teacher, in the same class, in the same school but one outperforms the other?  What accounts for that difference?  Rather, what is the greater contributor for that difference?  We, and many education professionals, would suggest the home support system but there are studies that also point to social and cultural pressures.  What we need to do is to figure out what in our society allows our girls to outperform the boys. 
We recognise that this is a global phenomenon but we are small enough that we should be able to identify the ills and prescribe a remedy, especially when that remedy is a home remedy.  That is the beauty of living in
Antigua and Barbuda.  We are not suggesting that the solution would be easy because it is difficult to change social and cultural norms that have developed over a long period of time, but we must try.  
Our boys already get a bad reputation for hanging out on the block and getting into trouble, and there is probably an easy link to education and the same social and cultural pressures, so if we attack the root cause of the problem then we have a chance to stop, and hopefully, reverse the trend.  Getting our boys on par with our girls can only be beneficial to everyone.  So, if you have a boy or young man in school, please take the first steps. Encourage them.  Support them in their educational pursuits and use the home environment as a buffer to help protect them from the negative pressures that rest upon their shoulders at a young age. If we instill confidence in our young men and let them know that we have their backs, then they will perform equally as well as our young women.  The home is the solution and it is, for the most part, in our control.
See the list of top students here.

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