Male underachievement in Jamaica — Part 2
Part one in this series exploring male underachievement in Jamaica — published October 21, 2022 — presented the basic statistical evidence suggesting that there is a lack of males achieving a sufficiently high standard in tertiary educational institutions and consequently in the workplace. By delving deeper into the issue, let’s gain a greater understanding of the possible role of socialisation in the development of this phenomenon over the years.
Bugental and Grusec (2007) define socialisation as the processes involved in preparing the young for adult life under a particular societal construct and is dependent on biological and socio-cultural mechanisms.
It is believed that the familial structures, the educational system, the Church, and other institutions all affect the socialisation of males in the Caribbean (Wiltshire, 2012).
Growing with the lack of male role models could have resulted in males being inadequately socialised to pursue tertiary level and managerial positions. This sentiment is expressed with forceful effect in a study by Dr Herbert Gayle and Peisha Bryan, entitled Males and Tertiary Education in Jamaica (2019), which outlines the gendered nature of participation in tertiary education in the country. The authors found that the ratio of men to women has declined considerably over four decades, from the early 70s from 3:2 to 2:5, owing primarily to the shifting support of family for women’s pursuit of tertiary education at the expense of men.
These findings provide the basis for my investigation into these factors. An analysis of focus group responses reveals that young males within the household are not encouraged to go to school. Instead, they are encouraged to start working to provide for themselves and their families as soon as they have completed secondary education, and in some cases before. This form of socialisation impacts males’ tertiary education in a significant way. Their lives are already predetermined to provide for themselves and their families from an early age, without thought of attaining higher education.
While this analysis does not prescribe any particular family type, nor defend the Caribbean family type, what is encouraged is a deeper understanding of the paucity of males in tertiary institutions and in managerial position as a possible effect of not a particular family unit, but the effects of the family unit as it is in the Caribbean.
Since the family unit in the Caribbean is discussed, what the family unit is said to be, must be identified — as well as how it impacts males under-represented in these same spaces.
Edith Clarke in her seminal study My Mother Who Fathered Me (1957) highlighted that the Jamaican family structure saw an absence of a father figure. While it cannot be broadly said that this phenomenon is linked to the poor performance of male figures, what can be logically explained is how, sociologically, due to the absence of role models in the home, there have been equally inadequate symbols of interactions that introduce what the roles of males should look like in an intricate and not simplistic manner.
Essentially, young males seem to not have adequately been socialised to understand the ascribed statuses of a male throughout the various age groups, thus not having a frame of mind socialised into them that tertiary education for men is the norm or what is expected. In this way, Miner (2003) argues that the Jamaican family unit, with the single mother being the head of the household — thus promoting matrifocality and matriarchy — seems to be inadequate, as it does not account for teaching the psychological and emotional roles of the father as would be taught in a nuclear family structure.
At this juncture, the question must be asked regarding the exact form of the Jamaican family structure. A taxonomy is suggested by Miner (2003), which echoes Elsa Leo-Rhynie’s (1993) demystification of the complex phenomenon. Simply put, it may be said that there are three main types of family patterns:
(1) married, in which the law binds the union;
(2) common law, in which the law makes the practice of living together for five years a legally binding union; and
(3) visiting unions, in which the law does not bind the union, but patterns of continuous sexual intimacy allow for one to call this a family pattern. However, the creolised society’s complexity sees that the practice of polygamy may blur the lines with this third pattern, called visiting unions. The structural-functional theory would purport that the visiting union may cause instability in the society due to its lack of stable structure. Visiting unions may last for months or years and may not be effective in building social connections between the young male child and the visiting partner of the mother who may not be the father of the child. While it cannot be stated with certainty that the visiting family unit affected the socialisation of males, it may well be a possibility.
The primary aim of this analysis is to demystify the realities of the paucity of males in tertiary educational institutions and managerial positions, and one perspective is that the dysfunction of the visiting union may not have offered stability to the socialisation of males as very often the households remain matrilocal. In contrast, the male partner of the mother goes and comes.
Part three of this series will discuss another potential factor accounting for the phenomenon of male underachievement in Jamaica — the styles of male engagement within education and the role of learning theory in the process.
Dr Jacqueline Coke-Lloyd is a transformational leader and managing director of MYM Group Limited. She is a people, organisational, and middle manager development professional, as well as founder of Young Entrepreneurs Association. Coke is a national productivity ambassador, speaker, author, and adjunct professor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or firstname.lastname@example.org.