In January this year UCAS reported that there were now a third more girls applying for university than boys, leading the head of the organisation to call for boys to be treated as "a disadvantaged group". But this is not just an issue for the UK.
Here one of our readers, Wayne Campbell, an educator and social commentator from Jamaica, argues that what underpins the crisis in his country is the pressure on boys to reject anything that is deemed “feminine”, right down to the language of learning itself.
From as early as primary school there is concrete evidence which clearly distinguish our girls outperforming our boys in all the national examinations. For example, in Jamaica, the Grade Four Literacy and Numeracy Tests, as well as, the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) clearly points to girls outperforming boys.
The crisis affecting our boys is not unique to Jamaica. Other Caribbean islands are also experiencing similar issues. Societies such as the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Australia are also grappling with the plight of boys and scholastic underachievement as well as how to address the problem.
'Boys see school as for girls'
In my view, male underachievement is more a socio-political issue than an educational one. Social and cultural factors have influence and continue to do so the various ways in which masculinity is defined not only in the Jamaican society but societies all over. Masculinity and what it means to be a man does impact on the education of our boys.
Many boys view the school experience as feminine. Our boys’ life choices are severely circumscribed by the dominant notions of masculinity competing with “multiple masculinities” in the society. For many boys especially in a homophobic and transphobic Jamaican society they are forced to remove themselves from any association with the feminine or curriculum areas related to same. One glaring example is the persistent poor performance of our boys in English Language in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examination.
Boys who speak or attempt to speak Standard English are called derogatory names and ridiculed almost daily by their peers. The dominant notion of masculinity in the wider Jamaican society is one in which to speak Standard English is tantamount to being isolated by one’s peers and the accompanying question marks which undoubtedly will follow surrounding one’s sexual orientation.
Wayne Campbell is an educator from Jamaica
Our schools mirror the wider society and also suffer from this. Not surprisingly a significant number of our boys do not readily code switch between the languages, instead they prefer to use and remain with the language of what defines a man to be a man.
The school experience for many boys is already traumatic and therefore who can blame that boy for just fitting in, rather than face the hostile treatment and name calling from his friends. Interestingly, even boys from privileged backgrounds and from homes where Standard English is spoken are now struggling with the English Language as we continue to see the intersection of class and gender and how this impacts the school experience for our boys.
This is compounded by the fact that our boys learn from quite early that having an education is not vital to be successful in life. In fact if we assess success in terms of material possessions in the Jamaican context, the overwhelmingly majority of those men who are successful are those who did not excel at scholastic pursuits.
In fact, many of the men in our society who are seen as “successful” in the eyes of teenage boys, are in fact those who have dropped out of school and fallen foul of the law.
By Wayne Campbell
Wayne Campbell is an educator, poet, blogger and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.
Lead image: woodleywonderworks
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