Failing our boys


ON JANUARY 7, in an article entitled “Boys in crisis: It’s worse than expected,” Newsday columnist Debbie Jacob addressed an elephant in the room of education, one that many social scientists and education theorists have seemingly been deliberately avoiding to publicly address.

She alluded to a scientific study that points to the steady disengagement of boys in the education system as a global phenomenon. Research would show that there are many more scientific reports that point to similar conclusions, including studies done in the local context, with comprehensive recommendations for remediation.

Anecdotal evidence has been glaring in the face of the national community about the growing trend of male disengagement in our classrooms and schools. Teachers have long been pointing to this disturbing trend based on their professional roles as participant observers, and calling on the powers that be to address this social conundrum through comprehensive education reform.

Teachers have witnessed not only the virtual closure of the gender gap between boys and girls over the past three decades, but now assessments and education benchmarks at all levels of the school system seem to be showing girls pulling away, especially at the secondary and tertiary levels.

This development cries out for urgent national attention, especially against the burgeoning level of crime and criminality that has engulfed the country, with young men openly embracing deviance and crime as a career.

The growing number of young males that see gang membership and affiliation as a viable alternative to schooling is a slap in the face of our educational thrust.

Our supposition that education is an avenue of empowerment and social satisfaction is being increasingly challenged, even rejected by growing numbers of young men who see little or no value in schooling opportunity.

Female empowerment through education has reversed and usurped traditional social roles in more profound ways than we may care to openly admit. It is a development that must be confronted by the national community in a dispassionate and sober manner.

Some theorists have even alluded to the "feminisation" of the education system as a reason for the disengagement of many of our boys based purely on biological principles. The threat males perceive from educated and empowered women is a reality that oftentimes prompts boys to see education failure as an acceptable social outcome.

Educators have known all along that boys learn differently from girls. Unfortunately, education practice does not reflect this fact. Sadly, the male-female gender discourse has the ability to become contentious. This has stymied quality national debate on the subject with dire social and economic consequences.

We cannot perpetuate an educational model that is being increasingly rejected by our young men, certifying them as failures at every level. Both boys and girls must be given ample opportunity to realise their maximum human potential and enhance their capacity to add value to society rather than become a crime statistic.

Curriculum relevance and delivery methodology are once again placed into sharp focus and their capacity for social validation.

The writing has been on the wall for a long time. Indeed since 1997, Prof Jerome De Lisle, in analysing the issue of chronic broad underachievement among male students in the school system of TT, called for urgent intervention strategies to be targeted, focusing on institutional policies and processes, classroom interaction practices and the development of school-based gender relevant programmes for boys.

He further suggested that there be the provision of attribution and motivation training for all students, as well as teacher sensitisation and parent-involvement programmes targeting fathers and boys.

Some researchers argue that in order to adequately address the issue, the framework of the narrative must be clarified, being careful to differentiate between educational underachievement and under-participation. Thus, the issues must not be simplistically viewed from a biological perspective, but also take cognisance of its socio-economic dimension.

It must be resolved from a multi-sectoral perspective, mindful of the manner in which different sectors contribute to strengthening formal and non-formal learning systems, ensuring that each sector builds on and complements the efforts of the others. In other words, a holistic approach to treating the issue is self-evident.

What is palpable and obvious is the negative outcome of this educational imbalance on society, both socially and economically, and the imperative of addressing it with alacrity. There is significant research capacity at our tertiary-level institutions to provide guidance if there is the political will to adequately address the issue.


"Failing our boys"

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