Marginalised or privileged? Why boys underachieve in Caribbean schools.

Why are 30 percent of today's graduates from the Jamaican campus of the University of the West Indies (UWI) male whilst in 1948 the figure stood at 70 percent? Men make up 90 percent of professorial appointments and boys remain dominant in certain technical and vocational fields, notably engineering. Why is this the case? And why have girls challenged traditionally male fields such as medicine whilst boys have not done the same in traditional female fields such as nursing? Research at UWI suggests that these trends are the outcome of historical male privileging and that policies based on this perspective will produce better long-term results than those based on a notion of male marginalization.

Boys' early socialisation and society's expectations about male behaviour have been a handicap in West Indian schools. The cultivation of the hard male Caribbean image (strongest in Jamaica and linked to homophobia) makes this increasingly the case. Barriers to female education, including the belief that women's incomes are secondary and that they are incapable of certain studies have decreased, leading to a growing synergy between female identity and schooling. Findings include indications that:

To improve boys' performance in school the problem must be seen for what it is: highly differential gender achievement rather than male underachievement. Protecting males from female competition through quotas, a return to single sex education or other solutions derived from the perspective of male marginalization will make matters worse in the long run. New policies should:

'Making sense of male experience: the case of academic underachievement in the English-speaking Caribbean' IDS Bulletin 31/2 by Mark Figueroa (April 2000)
'Male Privileging and Male Academic Underperformance in Jamaica' by Mark Figueroa in ‘The Construction of Caribbean Masculinity’, The Press UWI, Kingston edited by Rhoda Reddock (forthcoming)
'Gender Privileging and Socio-Economic Outcomes: The Case of Health and Education in Jamaica', by Mark Figueroa in Gender and the Family in the Caribbean, ISER, UWI, Mona edited by Wilma Bailey (1988)

Funded by: University of the West Indies (UWI) and author (1995-2000)

id21 Research Highlight: 30 August 2000

Further Information:
Mark Figueroa
Department of Economics
University of the West Indies

Tel: 00 1 (876) 9771188
Fax: 00 1 (876) 9771483
Contact the contributor: mfiguero@uwimona.edu.jm

University of the West Indies (Jamaica)

Other related links:
Search Eldis for sources on gender

Search Eldis for sources on education

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