In recent times Jamaica, as well as other countries in the Caribbean and the wider global community, namely the United Kingdom and Australia have expressed much concern and have engaged in much discussion about the low number of males at tertiary level institutions, as well as, the below par performance of males at all levels of the education system.
Despite the on-going discourse as well as research done on the issue there has not been a clear cut policy to address this social problem. The various stakeholders continue to pay lip service to the issue at the expense of national development. The root of this social problem runs deep in the prevailing ideology of the sexual division of labour in which men are assumed to the breadwinners and therefore do not devote attention to investing in the long term project of education but prefer to become wage earners.
The returns on investment on one’s education tend to be a long term process, and as a result of this a significant number of males are turned off by this extended and exhaustive process. Given the economic reality of the times and the gendered approach to how we socialize our males, it is no surprise that our males are clearly opting for earning an income as early as possible even if this means dropping out of school. The on-going lotto scam in Montego Bay and elsewhere in Jamaica clearly gives support to this school of thought. According to the Sunday Observer of May 13, the police have arrested a number of 16 and 17 year olds who have dropped out of high school to become integral players in the lotto scam. Interestingly, a senior superintendent of police stated in that same report that a number of the teenagers’ scammers are paying cash (millions of dollars) for apartments and luxury cars. Why then should we continue to ask ourselves why boys are not remaining in school? The reasons are obvious. Crime is a clear and present danger and magnet for a significant number of our boys. Since 1980 Jamaica has seen a gradual increase in the murder rate as well as increases in other major crimes such as rape, shooting and robbery. According to the Jamaica Constabulary Force Statistics Division, Jamaica recorded nine hundred and seventy one (971) murders in 2003. The same source stated that in 2006 Jamaica recorded one thousand three hundred and fifty five (1355) murders. A disturbing trend is the high levels of participation of children and youth in criminal activities. More alarming is the fact that adolescent males are responsible for the vast majority of these acts of crime.
The fact is boys learn in a different manner than girls and our school system caters more to the learning styles of the girls than it does for boys. As a result many boys find school rather dull and boring and will drop out of school given the first opportunity especially where parental supervision is absent and or weak. Male under participation and participation in the school system is linked to the socialization process. Our boys are expected to misbehave while girls are expected to conform. As a consequence boys do not get sufficient training in self-discipline and by extension the school becomes an unbearable place for a significant number of our boys.
Coupled with the need to re-socialize our males is an urgent need for more male role teachers in our classrooms. Teaching as a profession has evoked over the decades as a female dominated job, and this has created a gap in terms of our boys not having male role models and mentors. This fact is made worse given the fact that more than half of our homes are headed by single-females. Our boys need to see more males in positions of authority and responsibility. The few male teachers in the school system have to contend with a systemic “discrimination” policy which plagues the schools system. There seems to be somewhat of a bias towards female teachers for positions of senior teachers and vice principals at times of promotion throughout our school system. No wonder there has been a steady decline of males who pursue tertiary studies. The decline of males in the islands’ tertiary level institutions such as the teachers colleges, community colleges and universities, have resulted in a gender imbalance especially at Jamaica’s premier tertiary institution, the University of the West Indies (UWI). The ratio of males to females for the 2007/2008 academic year at the Mona Campus was twenty (20) to eighty (80) per cent. In that same year, the ratio of males to females at the St. Augustine campus of the UWI was forty per cent (40) to sixty per cent (60). While the gender gap has improved at the UWI since then, the campus is still dominated by females in all faculties and departments.
There are two emerging schools of thought that have been forwarded with regards to boys, underachievement. In the first instance, there are those who claim that boys, underachievement is a direct result of the emphasis that has been placed on girls and women. Feminism has had a massive impact on young women’s aspirations. It has opened up educational and career choices to girls and this has made qualifications more important for them and their futures. Secondly, there are those who locate the problem in relation to wider social changes and how this impacts males, particularly adolescent males with regards to their view of masculinity and schooling. In our society and indeed in most if not all western societies in order for a male to solidify their sense of manhood and affirm their sense of masculinity a male should be seen as been a provider of economic supports. Additionally, our women are socialized to pursue men who have some means of economic power. The sad reality of this whole experience is that the man who cannot support a woman will oftentimes feels less than a man, and may in fact find it more challenging to find a meaningful relationship with a female. Many of today’s relationships are based on a transactional type arrangement, in other words the male expects to get sex from his female and in return the female expects money or maintenance from the male. Males view education differently from females. The society attaches a different social currency to certification for girls than that for boys. Our males learn from very early that it is not necessary to spend as many years receiving a formal education in order to succeed.
The time has come for us as a society to address male underachievement and participation by putting policies in place to stem the tide of having a lopsided society. In order for us to have sustainable development and growth our society must be inclusive in its policy making decisions to address the needs of everyone. There is no society that can progress and maintain growth if one sex is not catered to. Development as a process should all encompassing and against this background the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) aptly defines development as a process of enlarging people’s choices, increasing their opportunities for education, health care, income and employment and covering the full range of human choices from a sound physical environment to economic and political freedoms.
Our education systems need to be more responsive to the needs of our students. There is definitely a need for new forms of education to encompass the needs and interests of both boys and girls. We should and must change our teaching methods so that education is not seen as feminine and therefore not devalued by our males. We is needed is a transformational approach to education which will among other things consider seriously the gender differences in learning and as such cater to both sexes. As we celebrate our fiftieth year of political independence what better gift to give.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.