Wed | Sep 19, 2018

Editorial | Cheering our boys

Published:Saturday | February 24, 2018 | 12:00 AM

We often lament the fact that many of our boys are struggling at all levels of the education system while, increasingly, girls are making waves in Jamaica's schools. Many studies have highlighted the gender dynamics in education, and the topic has been exercising the minds of educators and policymakers. While Jamaica is not short of students who achieve academic excellence, we do not get as many opportunities to celebrate our boys' performance in the classroom.

But two events this week have given us reason to laud substantial achievements of male students. First came news that the Jamaica College team was victorious in the International Robotics Competition US First for high schools in America. This is a wonderful boost for advancing science education in our schools and may strengthen the argument being advanced for building more elite boys' schools in the island.

Then there was the performance of boys in the recently concluded Jamaica Social Investment Fund (JSIF) 2017 School Science Quiz competition. Eighteen primary and all-age schools entered the completion and the boys outscored the girls.

The other encouraging result that emerged from this JSIF competition is that the winning school was Greenwich Town Primary, an inner city school which, as we can imagine, is not well resourced. But they have beaten the odds, and these children are laying the foundation for a successful high-school experience. This newspaper encourages the community to celebrate this outstanding achievement. We also urge them to protect these children, who will become the next generation of educated and skilled workers and who will, no doubt, inspire those coming behind them.

Since school achievement is really the cornerstone of lifelong success, the underachievement of boys has ominous implications for the country's social, intellectual and economic development.

A country with scores of boys languishing 'on the corner' with no work and few prospects for employment will likely feel the negative effects in crime and violence. Jamaica has too many young men hanging around who should be working, studying or learning a skill. These idle boys are a magnet for gang recruiters and scammers where quick monetary rewards are promised.

There is a growing body of research available to policymakers and administrators on how to reverse the trend of underperforming males. They range from suggestions that schools be more male-friendly, that teacher-training institutions redesign teaching methods with specific focus on boys, and that male teachers should be attracted to the teaching profession so they can be role models and mentors. The experts all agree that the solutions must come from inside as well as outside the school.

A key element in encouraging children to acquire an education is parental support. We cannot overstate the important role parents play in providing the support their children need to feel motivated and engaged in their school life.

On balance, the evidence suggests that students who have supportive parents, who attend school meetings, and are interested in their children's work generally do better in school.

Even with these successes that we seek to highlight today, we continue to face the challenge of how to better engage our boys in schools and reverse their underperformance. Multiple studies have been done, and it is now time to put the recommendations to the test and turn the tide.