The life of a modern child living in the UK is a caught between environmental tensions and excessive mollycoddling. This imbalance does not just exist in the home; it exists in every social sphere children are interacting in. Many people want to rightly shield their children from certain dangers and adversities that kids today are arguably very vulnerable to, but if we begin to pull them back from healthy competition in the classrooms then we may be failing them in their preparation for the struggles they are likely to face in adulthood.
This week the Girl's School Association released a statement suggesting boys between the ages of 11 and 16 should be educated separately from girls so boys feel less intimidated.
Alun Jones, president of the body which represents independent girls' schools told the Sunday Times:
"If you have a very bright, very driven, very focused, very articulate lady, which a lot of girls are, that intimidates a boy in the classroom, especially boys of average ability."
This concern was further cemented by The Department of Education who released statistics in October which showed that only 50.8% of boys at state schools scored at least five C grades including English and Maths in GCSE examinations in comparison to 61.2% of girls.
In the real world boys will not only compete with other male candidates, but with everyone. Perhaps separating the boys and girls is not enough; a lot of it comes down to the parents as well. It seems nowadays, particularly in western countries, many parents tend to mollycoddle their children and avoid placing 'too much pressure' on them once they get home from school. However, in Asian countries, including China, Singapore, Hong Kong and Japan parents hold higher expectations for their children. According to Pisa tests - the Programme for International Student Assessment Shanghai was ranked top of the international education rankings.
Their success is all down to what they call 'tiger parenting'; a style of parenting which produces high achievers with eclectic skills. They create a mind-set within their children that education is the key to mobility and success. In most Asian countries children spend up to 5 hours a day studying independently, for most 16 year olds in the UK that would be per week. And their focus is not just on the core subjects and curriculum but they also study different trades and talents which all in all make them more attractive candidates for further education and future employment. This motivation and drive is somewhat lacking in young children here in the UK. According to Organisation of Economic Co-operation and Development figures, in 2010 around a fifth of 15-year-olds in Britain failed to gain even the minimum standard expected for their age group in literacy and maths.
Due to great global unrest, the UK is seeing a huge influx of highly qualified students and professionals from every possible field flooding in to country, and in particular our business and commercial capital, London. They are bringing with them great skills and heavy competition, if our children are struggling to keep up in the classroom against a few articulate and confident children then what hope will they have against competitors who can be articulate and competent in four different languages?
And it's not as if these children are in for an easy ride in the future: if they are lucky enough to get a place at a good university then they will also be burdened in thousands of pounds worth of debt and that degree won't guarantee a Job. And if they are lucky enough to get a good job they will struggle climbing the property ladder, and according to official EU statistics, home ownership in the UK is set to fall below France largely because of the tougher mortgage standards which are making it harder for owner-occupier to borrow.
Yes of course, academically speaking, students do achieve better results in separate classes. Mixed-gender classrooms provide an additional distraction for some students, and separating classes by gender can provide improved concentration and fewer classroom distractions. It would also be easier for teachers to cater to students in separate classes because boys and girls tend to learn and excel at different paces. What works for girls does not necessarily work for boys and vice versa. But it seems in most cases schools are only trying to achieve certain targets, and match statistics year on year.
The truth is that 'life is competitive', and pushing children to compete in the classroom or with one another in sports is more productive than mollycoddling them. Healthy competition can help prepare them for one of the fundamental realities of life. During their developing years boys would academically benefit from separate classrooms but they should not be sheltered from their competitive counterparts. If we want them to succeed in the future we have to teach boys how to overcome and rival competition because it's a reality they will have to face throughout most of their adult life. The effort has to extend beyond the classroom; parents shouldn't shelter their children from the struggle and determination it takes to be a successful and well-rounded adult.