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EDITORIAL - Re-engaging boys in schools

Published:Sunday | April 22, 2012 | 12:00 AM

The underperformance of boys has been widely researched and discussed in our society for many years. Academics, educators and community workers have, from time to time, studied these findings and examined various strategies on how to intervene in the lives of male students.

But even though concern over the poor performance of boys has grabbed media attention and has stirred national debate, there has been no formal policy change in the educational system to deal with the problem.

Obviously concerned about the state of affairs, the country's high-school principals, under the banner of Jamaica Association of Principals of Secondary Schools (JAPSS), have decided to turn the focus on ways to improve boys' performance. Hopefully, the principals will avail themselves of the scientific research and the interesting insights that have emerged from these studies as they seek to formulate policy.

Their concern would be all the more heightened by the fact that seven all-girl schools are ranked among the top-10 performers in English, while five of 10 performers in mathematics are also all-girl institutions.

"Everybody must do well," declared JAPSS President Sharon Reid, who, although pleased at the girls' performance, added, "Any society that doesn't have a balance is one-sided ... . One way or another, we want to see all of our children do well."

If boys are losing interest in education, our educators need to find ways of re-engaging them, for if boys are not doing well at the high-school level, they are less likely to attain tertiary-level education. Currently, the statistics point to a disproportionate number of females taking up professions like medicine, law and engineering. The education of boys must, therefore, be seen as an important issue for gender equality.

Brain-based differences

Ms Reid seems to allocate some of the blame for boys' underperformance to the way in which they are taught in school. Indeed, experts have also blamed some educators, who they say often ignore the brain-based difference in how boys and girls learn.

The debate on boys' education ought to gain wider attention within educational and public circles if we are ever to see improvement in the academic achievements of our boys and move towards any kind of gender equality in society. There are a number of other reasons why the society should be focusing on boys' education.

For instance, children from poor homes are often those who struggle most in schools, and as adults they will face limited opportunities. Without the tools to fight poverty and unemployment, their future outlook will be rather dim. Educated persons are more likely to get the better jobs and become self-sufficient and productive citizens.

So in this debate, we cannot overlook the dynamics of society. A safe, supportive and enabling environment can foster empowerment and well-being. However, when these conditions are absent, such as in single-parent families or violence-torn communities, children fail to secure optimal achievements.

Any agenda for reform requires resources. So after the principals have met in their retreat, the challenge will be to create educational opportunities which will re-engage our boys and make them aware that raising their level of performance is relevant to society at large.

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