Tuesday, January 16, 2018

How to help boys do better at school


Mark Fraser

 I deeply appreciated Kevin Baldeosingh’s report in the Sunday Express of August 24 headlined, “Why are our boys underperforming in school?” Both lecturers consulted provided excellent ideas. However, I did not agree that by simply increasing the number of male teachers will have any impact on male achievement. Many research projects in the published literature failed to find any significant improvement to male academic achievement under male teachers.

One study pointed out that boys and girls learn differently, but in T&T this finding is not addressed in the school system. At one time we piloted an initiative for same-sex secondary schools, but this potentially useful project was abandoned with a change in government due to political jealousy. What a pity.

Both experts consulted suggested male stereotyping contributes to low levels of male achievement, because masculinity is now defined by the notion that school is “something that girls are now seen to do”.  

I would like to point out that this association of girls with schools and boys with “physicality, domination and control” did not always hold true in T&T. Indeed the opposite view was held in that academic achievement was expected from boys; and girls were expected to assume a more domesticated role. This operated to the extent that in bygone days parents made great sacrifices to have their boys educated, while a good marriage was all that many expected of girls.

It is my hypothesis that a major contribution to low male achievement in T&T nowadays is that as a society we place more value on excellence in sports and entertainment than on academic excellence. 

Compare the number of youth that make the headlines for sporting excellence to those who excel in academic work. Does anyone recall the names of the members of the Math Olympiad teams, the names of our young writers and poets? How many academic achievers have received national honours? 

Even following the UWI graduations the recipients of honorary doctorates for entertainment make the headlines, while no one is made aware of what the graduating PhDs and masters actually achieved, and the new knowledge they created.

It is my view that in order to improve male achievement we need to go back to the value system that operated in the pre-independence days, where males had opportunities to display their intellectual, literary and artistic competence through the annual arts festivals. 

I do not wish to deny sporting and entertainment competence, but to suggest that national recognition should once again be extended to intellectual pursuits. The Government should take the lead in restoring the value placed on academic achievement without narrow political agendas.

David Subran