For the first time since 2012, boys outperformed girls in the 2017 sitting of the Language Arts paper in the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT). According to data released by the Ministry of Education, Youth & Information, boys achieved a higher mean percentage score of 76.7% in Language Arts, compared to 68.5 % for girls. This development augurs well for boys’ education, especially since men’s educational attainments have fallen and continue to fall drastically behind women’s. Boys’ underachievement has been at the heart of many academic journals and discussion over the years. The issue is not unique to Jamaica; in fact the concern is of global significance and is rooted in both a socio-political and educational ideology. Males over the years have been underperforming at almost every level of Jamaica’s education system. There are various schools of thought which have been forwarded with regards to boys’ underachievement. There are those who argue that boys’ underachievement is a direct result of the emphasis that has been placed on girls and women. 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. Statistics from the Mona Campus, of the University of the West Indies, indicate that more than seventy per cent (70%) of all graduates are females. Data from the other degree granting institutions paint a similar picture. The discourse surrounding gender and education is often emotional resulting in a loss of focus regarding the issue at hand. Boys too have structural hurdles to overcome in the education system. One such is the gender-based bias in the curriculum as well as the methodology being used. It is hope that the new National Standards Curriculum (NSC) will address the deficit boys’ face. According to the Minister of Education, Senator Ruel Reid, the National Standards Curriculum will improve methods of teaching, particularly for boys. The National Standards Curriculum aims at improving the general academic performance, attitude and behavior of students. The National Standard Curriculum is student centered and emphasis will be placed on project-based and problem-solving learning, with Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, Mathematics (STEAM) incorporated at all levels of the education system. It is critical that we engage our males, specifically, adolescent males in trying to change the gender norms within the society, one of which is that English Language is a girl’s subject. Unfortunately, we live in a society in which boys who display school smarts are often ridiculed as effeminate by peers and even adults in areas where academic excellence by males is typically devalued. Undoubtedly, our males continue to struggle with questions surrounding their masculinity and manhood and many just give in to the popular culture of the day. The achievement of our boys at the primary level is more significant against this prevailing thug culture often far removed from education. It would be interesting to have the progress of these young men tracked over the duration of their high school years to see how well they perform at the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) especially so in English Language. We need to build on the momentum gained from the boys’ GSAT achievement by fostering a movement to rescue our boys from academic slumber. The onus is on the policy makers to ensure that equality of educational opportunity for both sexes is achieved and that this is sustainable for the long term viability and development of the society. In the words of freedom fighter and statesman Nelson Mandela, education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.
Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues.