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The Next 50 Years - Save our boys

Published:Sunday | November 25, 2012 | 12:00 AM

Ruel B. Reid, Contributor

Defining the Problem

ACCORDING TO Miller (1991), the Caribbean is one of the few regions in the world where there are more illiterate men than women. In 1999, the illiteracy figures were 25.9 per cent for men and 14.1 per cent for women.

there have been remarkable improvements since then, the males are still
lagging behind the females, with the most recent estimates based on
calculated figures by Jamaica Adult Literacy Survey being 10.6 per cent
for males and 6.5 per cent females in 2008.

More recently,
ministers of education from across the Commonwealth have raised the
issue of boys' underachievement and poor attendance at school, which is a
growing phenomenon in all regions.

This subject has raised heated debate as well as a number of conflicting hypotheses (Jha & Kelleher 2006).

The debate started around the early 1970s and came to the fore in the mid-90s.

Grade One Individual Learning Profile (GILP), a diagnostic test, which
replaced the Grade One Readiness Inventory (GRI), is taken by children
upon entry into primary school from early-childhood institutions.

the Grade Four Literacy Test, the results are also telling. Seventy per
cent of the students achieved mastery of the test, with boys averaging
59 per cent and girls 81 per cent.

The boys recorded an even
poorer performance on the numeracy test, averaging 36 per cent when
compared with 55 per cent for girls.

Data on the performance of
students on the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) also show comparable
results, with girls receiving consistently higher scores than boys.

The GSAT facilitates placement and continued development of students at the secondary level.

In 2009, a total of 49,648 students, representing approximately 91 per cent of the grade-six cohort, sat the examination.

The table above shows girls outperforming boys in all five areas of the Grade Six Achievement Test.

comparison of student performance in primary and preparatory schools
indicate that the latter students are achieving better results.

However, boys continue to underachieve when compared to the girls.

data aggregated by school type in a cohort of schools demonstrated that
girls outperformed boys on academic tests in public primary and all-age
schools; while at high and preparatory schools, the boys performed
better at academic and cognitive tests, albeit not significantly so.

Although the boys and girls are receiving similar cognitive scores, there is disparate academic performance.

to Maureen Samms-Vaughan (2001), this could be attributed to different
experiences of male and female children in primary and all-age schools, a
teaching technique or approach, which facilitates girls or greater
vulnerability of boys when exposed to similar circumstances as girls.

It is safe to conclude that the teaching experiences at the primary and all-age levels need to be
reviewed and adjusted in order to support boys in realising their
fullest potential.

The poor performance of boys in the
Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examination is also worrying,
as the boys are particularly at risk.

In 2009, of the
163,245 subject entries for public secondary school students at the
general and technical proficiency levels, 60.6 per cent were for females
and 39.4 per cent for males.

The statistics also
revealed that the males sat fewer subjects and had a higher failure rate
than their female counterparts.

Therefore, there is
no surprise that there is a corresponding 70:30 participation of females
in tertiary education compared to males.

Factors Impacting Boys Underachievement

It is
generally accepted that a child's performance is determined by factors
both inside and outside of school.

Jules (2010)
supports this position by stating that "male underachievement in the
region is only a symptom of deep-seated differentials in society and
cannot be resolved in the arena of the school

The main question for decision or policymakers
and other educational officials, however, is what can be done within
the school system to improve boys' performance, thereby closing the
achievement gap?


1 Boys are underachieving in education not
only when compared to their female counterparts, but also against
objective standards of performance for their peer

2 Gender achievement differences are evident
from the earliest years of school life.

3 Boys' early
socialisation and society's expectations about male behaviour have
retarded their academic performance.

4 There is lower
attendance levels for male than female students, especially in primary
and junior high schools, as well as secondary and technical high

5 Boys in preparatory schools generally
achieve at higher levels of performance than their counterparts in
government-owned institutions.

6 Negative school and
home environment are key contributory factors to male

Strategies for closing the gap and
winning back our boys

When male students endure
academic underachievement, a major consequence is that they become at
risk and are more prone to suffer from a variety of negative factors
such as illiteracy, dropping out of school, crime, substance abuse, drug
trafficking, unemployment, poverty and suicide. At-risk students need
help and specific strategies should be designed to empower them
(Superville, 1999).

Boys' underachievement is a result
of a 'complex interplay of forces' both at home and school (USAID,

Case studies conducted in countries all over
the world, inclusive of Jamaica, reveal that schools can make a

Closing the achievement gap will require
the commitment and dedication of the school leadership team and

We also need to create a culture where high
expectations are the norm, where achievement is celebrated, and where
teaching and learning techniques are continually improved

No one approach will lead to success. Successful
schools are those that utilise appropriate strategies to suit their own

It also requires exploring in depth
aspects of 'underachievement' in order to understand the complexity of
the problem along with its varied gender dimensions and to take risks in
developing innovative approaches to address

Closing the underachievement performance gap can
be a daunting task.

The challenge will not be
addressed by token efforts.

The solution requires
major changes and investments in instruction as well as infrastructural
facilities in schools.

It will also require major
investments in time and effort in working with families, non-school
organisations and the wider community in eliminating the deficits that
boys currently are experiencing.

The ultimate goal of
any educational reform programme should be to improve the quality of the
education system and raise the bar and benefit all learners, both male
and female (USAID, 2005).

Ruel B. Reid is a veteran
educator and the principal of Jamaica College. Send feedback to

Table 1: Performance on the Grade One Individual Learning Profile 2008-2009 academic year

General knowledge 10.3% 12.5% 7.8%
Number concept 11.3% 12.4% 10%
Oral language 15.5% 15.1% 15.9%
Reading 21% 18.9% 23.3%
Writing & drawing 23% 18% 29%

Table 2: Performance on the Grade Four Literacy Tests in the 2008-2009 academic year

National Average BOYS GIRLS
Literacy 70% 59% 81%
Numeracy 45% 36% 55%

Table 3: Performance in the Grade Six Achievement Test by gender

Subjects 2009 2010

Males Females Males Females
Mathematics 49 57 53 61
Language arts 51 62 53 63
Social studies 50 56 54 62
Science 50 56 56 63
Composition 7 8 7 9