Young males are opting out By Ian McDonald
Stabroek News
July 7, 2002

Related Links: Articles on youths
Letters Menu Archival Menu

When I was working for the West Indian Commission in 1991/92 I remember a conversation I had with one of the Commissioners, Sandra Mason, a distinguished member of the Barbados judiciary. She said that in Barbados community leaders were becoming increasingly concerned about the way boys and young men were abdicating from any ambition to study hard and lead serious, responsible, dedicated lives. In school, and after hours, they, more than girls and young women, lived as if they believed the world owed them all its sweetness now.

More and more boys were dropping out of school early. Their main intention seemed not to get a good education but to go out into the world and make a fast buck. Nearly 100% of criminal youths were male. Girls and young women, on the other hand, were staying at school longer and studying harder and were devoting themselves much more seriously to community work and to preparing themselves for constructive, long-term careers. Her impression was that other countries in the region were experiencing the same sort of thing.

At the same time, when the University of the West Indies was being discussed by Commissioners, one heard how in faculty after faculty women had begun to outnumber men. In faculties of English, for instance, women were in the overwhelming majority. The future of literature in the West Indies was clearly going to be in mainly female hands.

Please now examine carefully the tables accompanying this column which show the number of candidates sitting the 2001 CSEC May/June examinations. One table gives the total entries by gender for all the countries. The other table analyses the performance of the candidates in individual subjects in the region.

I hardly need to comment. Can it really be that in the region only 28,000 boys sat English A compared with 43,000 girls? Surely it cannot be a fact that only 42,000 boys sat mathematics compared with 69,000 girls? And, to me anyway, the comparative numbers for those sitting the Accounts and Business examinations are simply unbelievable.

In Building Technology (775 to 94), Electronics (1,793 to 157), and Technical Drawing (6,839 to 929) boys are still far ahead. In Art (2,549 to 2,259) and Geography (6,131 to 6,662) they are holding their own. But in subject after subject girls are forging ahead: Caribbean History (8,026 to 4,306), Religious Education (1,368 to 662), and English Literature (11,874 to 5,397) for instance. And, it goes without saying, in their traditionally strong subjects girls remain unassailable: Typewriting (4,931 to 619), Shorthand (238 to 4), Food and Nutrition (5,917 to 861) and Home Economics (3,412 to 380). But it is the comparative figures in the core subjects, English and Maths, that stun one into disbelief. What on earth is going on? These numbers, obviously, are well known to regional educationalists and leaders. Surely they reveal a situation that is disturbing and the implications of which need to be taken seriously and discussed widely. Perhaps, indeed, such discussions are taking place but, if so, they must be taking place behind closed doors. On the surface of public life, as far as I know, this fundamental shift in the balance of power and responsibility between the sexes has not been seriously addressed.

It is, of course, excellent that girls and young women are at last getting as good an opportunity as boys and young men to study and equip themselves for careers and to lead more varied and challenging lives. However, what must be alarming and potentially extremely dislocating is how extraordinarily far and fast the pendulum has swung in the direction of female domination. I would have thought that the coming eclipse of the West Indian male should be the subject of at least minimal concern to us all, not least the women.

What has caused, and is causing, this decline in serious male ambition and achievement? One explanation, which ten years ago Sandra Mason of Barbados suggested to me, is that parents are much more protective of girls, supervise their upbringing and daily habits of work and play much more carefully and systematically, than they do in the case of boys. But is this any more true than it was for a long time? What may be other reasons why the West Indian female of the species is taking such a commanding lead in the pursuit of excellence? Are girls, for some reason, as they grow into adulthood less susceptible to the tinsel attractions of fast living? Look at the numbers again. In a generation is there any West Indian institution or activity where women will not be, indeed should not be, dominant? Well, the West Indian cricket team perhaps. And yet, and yet, I hear there is a young girl on the Essequibo coast whose batting is showing amazing promise ...

                                    CSEC MAY- JUNE 2001

TERRITORIES                                   MALE         FEMALE
                                                       No.         %         No.         %
Participating Terrirories

Anguilla                                            85    31.14        188       68.86
Antigua and Barbuda                      486     37.07       825       62.93
Barbados                                     2778     38.33      4469      61.67
Belize                                           1002     43.81     1285      56.19
British Virgin Island                         98       41.35      139       58.65
Cayman                                        151       45.76       179      54.24
Dominica                                       576      37.87       945      62.13
Grenada                                        983      38.76      1553     61.24
Guyana                                       3572       36.05     5575      60.95
Jamaica                                      18672     36.03    33155     63.97
Montserrat                                     31       32.98         63      67.02
St Kitts and Nevis                        383       35.53       695       64.47
St Lucia                                      1215      39.89      1831      60.11
St Vincent and the Grenadines      711       34.15      3171     65.85
Trinidad and Tobago                13784       39.71     20855     6029
Turks and Caicos                        129        41.88     179        58.12
External Entries
Netherlands Antilles                      56         42.75      75        57.25
Suriname                                        2         66.67         1       33.33
Total                                        44664     37.84      73383   62.16

             CSEC MAY- JUNE 2001

SUBJECT                  NUMBER SITTING    

                                MALE          FEMALE
English A                 28,326            43,512
English B                   5,397            11,874
mathematics            42,498             69,505
Chemistry                 3,679              4,836
Biology                     4,655             7,654
Physics                     4,775             3,329
Spanish                     2,973             7,060
French                         808             2,260
Business                   10,136         21,208
Accounts                   7,304          17,329
Social Studies          10,079          18,022
Integrated Science     5,151            7,781
Caribbean History     4,306            8,026
Countries involved: Antigua, Anguilla, Barbados, Belize, British Virgin islands, Cayman Islands,
                                  Dominica,  Grenada, Guyana, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts, St Lucia,
                                   St Vincent, Trinidad & Tobago, Turks and Caicos, Netherland Antilles