7 May 2009
Growing trend is subject of two-day Caribbean conference
Schools have an important role to play in keeping boys from underachieving in education, despite the many social factors that can contribute to this trend.
Dr Jyotsna Jha, Adviser at the Commonwealth Secretariat, said it was important to look beyond the myths relating to underachievement and under-participation of boys in parts of the Commonwealth.
“It is not a ‘boys versus girls’ issue – girls are not necessarily benefiting from the trend. Neither is it a result of focusing on girls’ education and women’s empowerment or because the majority of teachers are female and boys have no role models,” said Dr Jha.
“It is important to understand the trend outside the ‘war of the sexes’ box.”
Dr Jha was addressing participants at a Caribbean Conference on Keeping Boys Out of Risk, a joint initiative between the Commonwealth Secretariat and the World Bank.
The two-day meeting, which is taking place in Montego Bay, Jamaica, from 6 to 7 May 2009, will focus on underachievement in education, the need for development of skills and responses to challenges from the labour market.
The World Bank helps governments in developing countries reduce poverty by providing them with money and technical expertise they need for a wide range of projects - such as education, health, infrastructure, communications, government reforms and many other purposes. (Source: World Bank)
In her presentation, Dr Jha highlighted the growing number of countries – in the Caribbean, Latin America and North America and Western Europe as well as some parts of the Pacific - where boys are under-participating or under-performing, particularly at secondary school.
Many factors contribute to this, including a child’s background and family income.
But while education does not have all the solutions it can definitely play an important role in keeping boys out of risk, Dr Jha told delegates.
In the classroom, boys face peer pressure to behave in a way that proves they are boys, and being a studious boy is often regarded as being like a girl, close to homosexuality. Education is perceived as feminine.
Dr Jha highlighted accessible examples of how schools have succeeded in challenging stereotypes: “The school can be made a more equal and less hierarchical place. Teachers can sensitively challenge misconceptions about masculinity and femininity through organising sports differently, or trying alternative ways of distributing work.
“Teachers can also be encouraged to make the learning process more interesting to both boys and girls and it is important that they believe in everyone’s abilities, with high expectations from and encouragement to all pupils.”
Effectively, teachers need to be prepared for a more active and engaged role, going beyond subject teaching, Dr Jha emphasised.
In her presentation, she also called for a consistent policy and approach across other sectors involving youth, community, labour market, police and crime prevention.
She was speaking in the session ‘Keeping Schools from failing Youth, and Youth from failing Schools’. Co-presenter Professor Barbara Bailey from the University of the West Indies emphasised the role of structural factors outside education - “the presence of a sizeable informal economy related to crime and drugs provides opportunities to young men without certifications to earn fast money.”
Professor Bailey added: “As long as such opportunities exist it will be difficult to find solutions only through schooling and education. More so as schools in the Caribbean are products of colonial times meant to reproduce social inequalities rather than transform.”
Caroline Pontefract, Director of the Secretariat’s Social Transformation Programmes Division, was chairing the session. She said: “It is not a question of moving emphasis away from girls in terms of support to gender, in terms to access, and successful completion of school and with equal opportunities after schooling. This remains a challenge.
“Boys’ underachievement highlights the complexity of gender issues and the need for school issues and classroom processes to maximise the potential of both girls and boys and to enable them to contribute positively to societal social and economic development. Schooling also has to be considered as one dimension, and the role of parents, communities, institutions, ministers and governments and civil society and the integration of their work is paramount in addressing the issues confronting girls and boys.”