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JEFF BROOMES: Co-ed here to stay


JEFF BROOMES

JEFF BROOMES: Co-ed here to stay

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IN ALMOST EVERY education conversation that I have with my friends they invariably harken back to the “good old days”.

To them, education started going south as soon as co-education became a defining feature of the Barbadian educational landscape. Of course, they ignore the decades of coeducation that had prevailed at many schools in this country and focus only on the full integration that took place in the seventies and eighties.

As I recall my personal experience, there was only one female teacher, Ms Babb, at my primary school. My secondary school experience was virtually the same, with Ms Rock being the female on the full-time staff.

I believe the experiences of most of my contemporaries were the same. Male teachers dominated the staff of boy schools, and female teachers dominated the staff of girl schools.

Teaching in that era was a profession of choice. It was seen as a signal honour for one to be a school master shaping the lives of young persons, setting the tone and example for the community and being remunerated at a level commensurate with most public and private professionals.

The post-Independence era saw a major societal shift. The national economy became more diverse, and job opportunities in areas in unfolding industries became available. The economy was growing, individuals were becoming more highly educated and the success of what was seen as an industrial revolution brought increased opportunities and increased salaries, especially for males.

This presented a significant challenge to the teaching profession which could not compete at the same salary level and saw the once brightest and the best foregoing this profession and accepting higher paying positions in a number of industrial businesses. This shift has gone on unabated to the point now where about 70 or more per cent of the practising teachers are female.

This realisation may have had nothing at all to do with the initiation of co-education in Barbadian schools that blossomed in the late 70s and early 80s, but the congruence was quite acute and, to my mind, quite positive.

We may debate whether or not this change was properly managed, but it is clear that the gender segregation could not continue. We could speak about the pace of development between girls and boys, but that argument does not carry much weight since they all do the same exit exams at the same time.

We may point to the fact that girls generally outperform boys in secondary schools. This, I believe, is a result of teaching styles and approaches that have largely remained more in the learning styles of girls.

As far back as 1946, according to the published results in the newspapers of the day, the results showed that girls were outperforming boys. This can and should be addressed at teacher  training where attention should be paid to the psychology of learning and getting clear appreciation of the difference between left and right brain learning which must impact teaching styles and approaches.

We can speak about boys not wanting to play sports for fear of being sweaty among girls. That is simply an uninformed suggestion and even, at times, a mere excuse. Throughout my career, I have never known it to be true. Certainly the athletic performances of boys in all schools and in many different sports put the lie to this claim.

With the high percentage of female teachers in relation to males, the clamour to revert to single-sex schools could be counterproductive. We could see a situation where an all boys’ school is being taught by all or substantially all female teachers. We must be careful what we ask for; we may just get it.

Jeff Broomes is an experienced educator, principal and community organiser who also serves as vice president of the Barbados Cricket Association and director of the West Indies Cricket Board. Email: [email protected]

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