Males by virtue of their biological sex face many challenges in all spheres including their education. 

Boys are more likely to be both the perpetrator and the victim of fights. In fact research indicates that boys get into fights twice as often than girls. Accordingly, boys are six times more likely to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD).  Boys are also more likely than girls to be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  More than ten (10) per cent of school age boys in the United States of America have been diagnosed with this behavioural disorder. Without a doubt there is clearly a strong association between the behavioural disorders ADD and ADHD and the ability to learn. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) manifests itself differently between the sexes.  Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is characterized by three major symptoms which are usually more pronounced in boys.

Boys are more likely to be hyperactive. Hyperactivity is a common trait among boys. Boys tend to run around, fidget and otherwise expend energy. However, it becomes a problem and a symptom of ADHD when the hyperactivity interferes with everyday life. For example, the boy may be unable to complete his homework, finish his chores or participate in after school activities due to his extreme level of hyperactivity.

Secondly, boys are more likely to be impulsive. For example, boys with ADHD tend to shout out answers in class without first raising their hands and get into trouble due to acting without first thinking about the consequences. Though this can be expected to a certain extent of most children, this is a symptom of ADHD when it becomes a problem that interferes negatively with the boy’s life. If, for example, the boy acts impulsively and gets into trouble so commonly that he has been expelled from school, he should be evaluated for ADHD.

Thirdly, boys are more likely to be aggressive. Aggression is a common symptom of boys with ADHD. Though boys tend to be aggressive by nature, their lack of impulse control associated with ADHD tends to result in excessive aggressiveness. This can lead to a variety of problems, such as getting into fights and using offensive and inappropriate language. This can negatively interfere with the boy’s success in school and maintaining relationships with his peers.

Far too many of our males in the Jamaican education system suffer from these illnesses. In fact many of these disorders go un-diagnosed and as a result they are not being treated for these very common behavioural problems. This is clearly a contributing factor in boys underachievement in the Jamaica society..  We need to revisit the level of support the government gives to our schools through the Ministry of Education. There is an urgent need for us to have Psychologists and Social Workers in some of our schools. Clearly much more can be done and needs to be done to scaffold our learning institutions in order to give each child especially our boys the opportunity to learn.

Expectations of what is appropriate male behavior in the Jamaican classroom is largely informed by our popular culture of our music, especially Reggae and Dancehall as well as our language.

Popular culture continues to glamorize marijuana smoking and the government’s intention to decriminalize marijuana smoking is likely to add ammunition to an already explosive situation. In many instances our boys idolize those ganja smoking, “gallist” artistes. Their role models are not the teachers with whom they spend a significant amount of the day with.

Let us not dismiss for a moment the power and influence of some of these dancehall and reggae artiste. Their control and indeed their authority is far more persuasive and far reaching than for example that of any teacher. Recently I came across the “G factor” ‘theory’ courtesy of a students work. While I was not fully aware of this before; it speaks to this on-going and increasingly pervasive and prevailing ideology which is affecting a significant number of our male students with devastating effects, thus impeding their educational success.

The G factor stands for girls, guns, gang, ‘gaza’ and ‘gully’.  These five factors are what most of our boys and young men are interested in.

 Interestingly, it’s the extremely hard core, aggressive, macho image of the Jamaican male which while encouraged both in school and in the wider society runs counter to the academic ethos of education.

It is during the turbulent period of adolescence that our boys experiment and engage in activities that the society uses as indicators of manhood.  One such activity is that of drug use, mainly the smoking of marijuana. Indeed there is a clear link between masculinity and ganja use. Many of our boys are pressured into getting involved in drug abuse and early sexual initiation. Peer pressure is real and it takes a boy great emotional strength and a strong will not to succumb or conform to society’s ideal view of masculinity.  The 2006 National School Survey by the National Council on Drug Abuse found that 24 per cent of adolescents, mainly boys, had used ganja at some point.

One can now conclude that the crisis our boys face regarding under achievement is indeed a crisis of masculinity.  The competing models of masculinities in the Jamaican society are directly related to the recognition of the different definitions of manhood. Our school- age boys are caught in the middle of this phallocentric and patriarchal society in which one’s masculinity must be visible. From the beginning of time violence has always been part of the meaning of manhood. As a society the time has become for us to deconstruct the negative meanings and associations of manhood and to reconstruct the meaning of masculinity and manhood in order to equip our boys with the necessary tools to achieve academically.

By introducing masculinities into the discourse we are also able to explore the ways in which one’s social class complicate boys’ achievement.  Low-socioeconomic status children begin their early childhood education in systematically lower-quality elementary schools than their more advantaged counterparts. Jamaicans who are economically better off tend to send their children to preparatory schools as against the working class who send their children to basic schools. Therefore boys who attend prep schools usually have an educational advantage over their counterparts who attend primary schools. The annual Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) highlights this glaring gap between both sets of students and exposes the class divide as it relates to under achievement of boys.  

A shift in focus to masculinity as the crisis behind the boy crisis also explains what is happening to single sex schools. Boys become more confident in single sex schools. Recent research on the gender gap in school achievement shows that girls are more likely to undervalue their abilities, especially in the more traditional masculine educational arenas such as Mathematics and Science. Research done in Australia by Wayne Martino found that boys are uninterested in English because of what is might say about their masculinity. There is the perception in our society that most boys who like English are of a deviant sexual orientation.  This finding could be easily applied to the Jamaican context where most boys find reading lame and boring. 

Sadly, a number of our male teachers reinforce the anti-academic version of masculinity in a number of ways.  A significant number of male teachers refuse from using Standard English in the teaching/learning experience in the classroom. Then there are others who overlook grammatical errors and only mark for content in their subject area. Therefore we should not be surprised that many of our males cannot pass Use of English at the tertiary level.  

The solution to the issue of male underachievement will require the input from all the stakeholders in the education system, our parents, teachers, students, the wider community and the Ministry of Education. By rescuing our boys we are in fact rescuing the Jamaican society. 

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.