Terrelonge is misguidedTuesday, March 30, 2021
In a report on a recent conference, entitled 'Black boys' education: Currency, practices and social intervention', state minister in the Ministry of Culture, Gender, Entertainment and Sport Alando Terrelonge was quoted by a news media outlet as saying that online education is affecting boys in Jamaica more than girls because boys who stay in the home are seen as behaving like girls.
He went further to suggest that boys who do well in school, who show respect to teachers, speak proper English, and who sit at the front of the class are seen as less masculine. He was also quoted as stating that this “gyalification” of education is affecting boys in a negative way.
Let me begin by stating that I am very surprised that the state minister could be making such sweeping generalisations. I note that the minister did not make any reference to any data or research to support his claim. In fact, his claims seem to be more based on anecdotal information that he may have come across. He should, however, know that anecdotal information cannot be used as “standalone” data, but rather to support other data that has been collected through established modes.
Minister Terrelonge is essentially guilty of stereotyping boys, which is simply just wrong. This is even more profound because this is coming from an individual from the Ministry of Gender. That kind of statement is not only irresponsible, but also contributes to the notion of male marginalisation within the Jamaican society. I would even venture as far as to say that if one should accept the minister's line of reasoning, then boys who are seen as effeminate perform better academically than boys who are seen as masculine. Such a line of reasoning is as absurd as it is flawed.
The issue of the underperformance of males is certainly something that must be properly assessed and analysed. It must also be seen within the context of our education system. There is available data and research to identify why our boys are underperforming. None of the research that I have come across has pointed to what Minister Terrelonge has purported to be the main reason our boys are underperforming or are impacted more significantly by the pandemic than girls.
For example, there is research in Jamaica that points to the fact that boys attend school with the same frequency as their female counterparts at the primary level. However, at the secondary level the drop-out rate is heavily skewed towards the boys who will invariably have less contact time than girls. Two of the reasons identified were lack of lunch money and lack of effective parental support.
Research has also pointed to the fact that boys tend to spend less time outside of school on academic-related activities such as homework. There is also a survey that points to the fact that boys tend to spend more time engaged in economic activity than their female counterparts. Anecdotally speaking, I have had occasions to have seen some of my boys engaged in work on the highway project.
Some of the best schools in Jamaica, in terms of student achievement, are all-boys' school. Leadership in these schools tends to be of a very high calibre that sets standards in their schools. I don't hear of any boy in these schools being stereotyped as being “less masculine” because they are high academic achievers. In fact, research suggests that all-boys' schools tend to perform better academically than co-educational institutions. There is also data to suggest that gender-specific classes have led to improved performance of boys in those subject areas. We have not even mentioned the fact that boys tend to develop at a slower rate than girls, which accounts for why they tend to be late bloomers.
Recommendations to Minister Terrelonge
For future reference, Minister Terrelonge should, perhaps, acquaint himself with the plethora of research out there, in relation to underperformance of boys, and not go off on a frolic of his own, without irrefutable data to support his generalisations. As a former state minister in education and youth, he should instead be advocating for sweeping changes in our education system in order to make it more accommodating to our male students.
Mark Malabver is the principal of Yallahs High School and a PhD candidate in educational leadership and management, and chairman of the Inner-city Teachers Coalition. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or email@example.com.
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