Boys’ underachievement in education: an exploration in selected Commonwealth countries

Boys’ underachievement in education: an exploration in selected Commonwealth countries

Case studies of successful efforts to raise boys’ education levels in Australia, Jamaica, Lesotho and Samoa

What are the causes of the growing phenomenon of boys’ underachievement and poor attendance at school? And what are the solutions? This study investigates these questions in light of experiences of the Commonwealth countries. It first presents a cross-regional analysis of the data and reviews the literature on explanations for why girls are now often outperforming boys in both participation and performance, especially in countries which have universal access and participation rates.

The remainder of the report then presents case studies of successful formal and informal education initiatives in Australia, Jamaica, Lesotho and Samoa. These case studies describe processes through which gender is constructed or transformed by teaching practices in both the institution and the surrounding culture, as well as the philosophies and goals, pedagogical approaches and results in terms of gender outcomes.

Some of the conclusions from these case studies include:

  • pedagogical reform practices and efforts to understand the situation of students and involve the community can help break down gender stereotypes and allow both boys and girls to realise their potential in learning
  • a set of strong rules coupled with measures that encourage more participation can help students change their attitude and behaviour
  • while open and distance learning (ODL) has potential as a solution in circumstances where the locations are remote and the population dispersed, it can be successful only with well-designed curricula using a variety of technological tools in combination with face-to-face interactions
  • the approach used in many vocational programmes, with an emphasis on interactive activities, showing confidence in students by allowing them handle complete projects themselves, and so forth, may provide principles for making any classroom pedagogy more interesting and effective
  • the results regarding the benefits of single-sex schools for boys are unclear
  • given the relationship in some countries between males and destructive behaviours such as suicide, care should be taken in promoting masculinity as a strategy to boost self-esteem and address underachievement
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