Yaneek Page | Wanted: social entrepreneurs who are willing to invest in boys
Parents of boys have several critical needs and wants. They need their boys to realise their true potential and live their best, happiest, healthiest, and most productive lives.
They need them to dodge the vicious and expansive 'at risk for crime and social exclusion' trap that awaits most, and instead mature into model citizens who will make outstanding social, scientific, creative, and economic contributions, among others, to society.
They want their boys to become great husbands, fathers, leaders, and visionaries who can work to advance the welfare of Jamaica and the whole human race, a premise easily verifiable with diligent local research.
However, parents of boys are struggling to help their children self-actualises and many seem to be fighting a losing battle in empowering them to achieve success. The evidence of this we see manifested in the deteriorating educational attainment of boys, anaemic job-seeking behaviour, falling labour force participation and requisite certification in preparation for same, and their propensity to commit the vast majority of violent crimes, among others.
It doesn't help that Jamaica's comparatively large number of female-headed households have the greatest number of children to care for, nearly half of whom require state support for basic food and educational support through the PATH programme.
Satisfying the needs of parents and finding a solution to the challenge of underperforming boys will require revolutionary interventions in parenting and education, among other spheres.
Therein lies the grand opportunity for savvy entrepreneurs to invest for positive impact and be purposeful in reaping transformational results.
The next step for an entrepreneur inspired to invest in the betterment of boys would be to delve deeper and conduct extensive research into the reasons and theories for their underperformance and devise a business model that offers verifiable solutions to satisfy existing demand at costs prospective customers are willing to pay. It would be even more impactful if they think bigger and devise a model that may be applicable in the wider Caribbean context and, therefore, may be expanded to other markets.
Experts agree that a child's formative years are the most critical. Some have noted that educational opportunities during those early years can lead to 'irreversible outcomes, which can affect a child's potential for the remainder of his or her life'.
Interestingly, almost all our early childhood and primary school institutions are co-educational, where boys and girls of the same age cohort are taught in a single space with the same methods of instruction and lesson objectives.
However, scientific insights indicate that boys mature at a slower rate than girls and learn differently, particularly in the formative years. It is believed that because of a higher density of neural connections in the hippocampus of the brain, girls can absorb and remember more sensorial and emotive information than boys.
This also had an impact on variances in vocabulary and reading and writing skills. They are also likely to pick up less on social cues in a classroom, which may affect their behaviour and adjustment in that space.
Research also suggests that girls produce more serotonin and oxytocin, which makes them more calm and attentive during periods of instruction. Differences in the cerebral cortex of boys are also believed to enhance their ability to learn more through movement and visual experience.
Ironically, many parents of boys will tell you that their children are stigmatised as being rude and disruptive when they can't sit still and 'pay attention' in class as their female counterparts can or when they are too fidgety and move around too often. The underrepresentation of male teachers is also believed to factor negatively in learning outcomes for boys.
Unfortunately, many parents and educators aren't aware of these differences and how they affect the ability of boys to learn and progress in our traditional classroom setting using our standard methods of instruction.
In fact, even educators who are aware of the impact of the differences between genders during their formative stages of development are usually ill-equipped and ill-prepared by the institutions that employ them to apply teaching methodologies and the appropriate space to allow for necessary differentiated learning.
The result is a disparity in learning and educational outcomes that deepens with each passing year, requiring herculean effort and resources on the part of the few parents who are prepared and able to help bridge the gap.
The situation becomes more untenable when viewed through the lens of several leading Caribbean social scientists who have concluded that our social constructs of gender identity and masculinity continue to compromise boys' attitude to learning and education.
My hope is that more entrepreneurs will step forward to invest in enterprises to improve learning, social development, and educational outcomes for boys - to include education, parenting, and resocialisation.
In fact, there may even be some entrepreneurs who recognise the possibility that underperforming boys may well be holding back faster-maturing girls in the same learning environment - and devise value added solutions to improve their outcomes as well.
The point is, every child deserves an opportunity to self-actualise, and our country simply can't afford to leave so many children behind, especially when it is they who are the key to unlocking our limitless potential.