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A Hong Kong mother worries there are too many boys in her daughter’s class

My daughter has just moved into Year Three at her international primary school in Hong Kong and more than two-thirds of the class are boys. She doesn’t like sitting next to the boys because, she says, they disturb her when she’s trying to work. This ratio doesn’t seem like a healthy balance and I’m worried it will lead to more behavioural problems in class.

I agree that the situation you describe seems less than ideal. Unfortunately, as a result of pressure on international school places and tight admissions policies, schools usually have to take the next child on the waiting list, regardless of gender. Therefore some year groups inevitably end up with a gender imbalance that is out of the school’s hands.

My son is the youngest pupil in the class. Should he be kept down a year?

I am sure your daughter’s school is well aware of the situation. Teachers generally spend a great deal of time and effort trying to allocate students to classes taking careful consideration of social and emotional factors, as well as the academic ability and personality of students. There is a lot for them to consider and it is not an easy task.

The dynamics of a boy-heavy class are quite predictable, especially as boys and girls mature at different rates. Boys, particularly in the younger years of primary school, are often more immature and boisterous, and this can be interpreted by girls as “naughty” behaviour. In addition, boys’ ability to concentrate for periods of time can be lower, therefore they are sometimes “off task” or moving around the classroom, which can be distracting for other pupils.

Nor is it uncommon for boys to achieve less academically than girls when they are young, especially in language and fine motor skills.

Girls generally tend to have a calming influence on a class. Studies show that boys often perform better academically when they are with girls. They also tend to develop better social skills as their more responsible female classmates can be role models. To some extent this is something of a generalisation, and the actual outcome depends on the nature of each individual student and their social and academic interaction.

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The advantages for girls in working alongside boys are less clear. Nevertheless, boys can provide good role models for open-ended problem solving and hands-on practical activities because they sometimes have a more risk-taking approach to challenges set by the teacher.

All teachers need to use differing teaching styles to cater for the diverse learning styles of girls and boys. Girls often demonstrate more advanced auditory proficiency and emotional intelligence, while boys tend to prefer visual cues and kinaesthetic activities. Many girls are good listeners and communicators, preferring group tasks where they have opportunities to discuss ideas with others.

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Having fewer girls in your daughter’s class will also mean fewer opportunities for social interaction with other girls. Although girls and boys do sometimes play together at this age – and there is no reason why your daughter cannot make male friendships – students often have different interests and need friends of their own gender, especially as they grow older.

I would suggest that you provide her with lots of opportunities to enjoy activities and friendships outside of school, and encourage her to play with girls from other classes in the playground as well as her own. Also mention your concerns to the class teacher so he or she can be supportive in helping her to build friendships within the class, and aid flexible groupings so she is able to sit and work with girls for certain activities.

Although a more equitable balance of girls and boys in your daughter’s new class may be more to your liking, you will probably have to accept the current situation for what it is. Every student reacts differently and there is no reason why she will not adapt quickly. On the plus side, the situation will help to prepare her for a range of different circumstances she will encounter as she grows older.

The most important thing is to nurture your daughter’s self-esteem and confidence. Help her to accept any challenges the new academic year presents, and to feel positive and enthusiastic about attending school whoever is in her class.

Julie McGuire is a former Hong Kong primary school teacher