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Let's build on the momentum of boys' GSAT achievement

Wayne
Campbell

Thursday, July 13, 2017

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Boys' underachievement has been at the heart of many academic journals and discussion over the years. The issue is not unique to Jamaica; in fact the concern is of global significance and is rooted in both a socio-political and educational ideology.

Males over the years have been underperforming at almost every level of Jamaica's education system. There are various schools of thought which have been forwarded as possible reasons for the phenomenon. There are those who argue that boys' underachievement is a direct result of the emphasis that has been placed on girls and women; and there are those who position the problem in relation to wider social norms and how this impacts males, particularly adolescent males, and their view of masculinity and schooling.

It was indeed welcoming to hear of some positive news regarding the achievements of boys in the 2017 sitting of the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT). For the first time since 2012, boys outperformed girls in the language arts paper. According to data released by the Ministry of Education, Youth & Information, boys achieved a higher mean percentage score of 76.7 per cent in language arts, compared to 68.5 per centfor girls.

This development augurs well for boys' education, especially since men's educational attainment has fallen and continues to fall drastically behind women's. Statistics from the Mona campus of the University of the West Indies indicate that more than 70 per cent of all graduates are females. Data from the other degree-granting institutions paint a similar picture.

The discourse surrounding gender and education is often emotional, resulting in a loss of focus regarding the issue at hand. But there is one thing which we cannot deny: boys have structural hurdles to overcome in the education system. One such is the gender-based bias in the curriculum as well as the methodology being used. It is hoped that the new National Standards Curriculum (NSC) will address this deficit.

According to the Minister of Education Senator Ruel Reid, the NSC will improve methods of teaching, particularly for boys. It aims to improve general academic performance, attitude and behaviour. The National Standards Curriculum is student-centred and emphasis will be placed on project-based and problem-solving learning, with science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics (STEAM) incorporated at all levels of the education system.

As we embark on this new direction and seek to change the gender norms within the society — one of which is that English Language is a girl's subject — it is critical that we engage our males, specifically adolescent males, because the unfortunate truth is that academic excellence by males is devalued in many of our communities. Boys who display school smarts are often ridiculed as effeminate. The result is that our males continue to struggle with questions surrounding their masculinity and manhood and many just give in to the popular culture of the day. The achievement of our boys at the primary level is more significant against this prevailing thug culture, often far removed from education.

We need to build on the momentum gained from the boys' GSAT achievement by fostering a movement to rescue our boys from academic slumber. It would be interesting to have the progress of these young men tracked over the duration of their high school years to see how well they perform at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate, especially so in English Language.

The onus is on the policymakers to ensure that equality of educational opportunity for both sexes is achieved and that this is sustainable for the long-term viability and development of the society. As Nelson Mandela once said, education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues. Send comments to editorial@jamaicaobserver.com or waykam@yahoo.com or @WayneCamo

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