Experts say why boys in education system are failing


Experts say why boys in education system are failing

Staff reporter

Sunday, February 23, 2020

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STATISTICS show that boys in Jamaica's education system are underperforming and dropping out of school at an alarming rate compared to girls, even when they come from the same communities and have gone through similar trauma.

This according to experts in the fields of education, psychology, and social work who spoke with the Jamaica Observer in looking at the ballooning disparity in behavioural and learning challenges displayed in Jamaica's boys.

Administrative and expert staff at the Mico University College Child Assessment and Research in Education CARE Centre in Kingston, where many of Jamaica's children who present with learning challenges go for assessment, revealed that boys figure heavily in their assessments for learning disorders and underperformance.

“The trend still continues to be that over 70 per cent of the boys that we see tend to be underperforming at their age and grade level compared to the girls. It has been that way as long as our organisation has been in existence when we look back at the reports from that time until now,” Ann-Maria Minott-Williams, the administrative manager for records, quality assurance and public relations at the Mico CARE Centre told the Sunday Observer last week.

Founded in 1981, the facility offers diagnostic and therapeutic services for children presenting with learning exceptionalities in four locations islandwide.

Special educator at the centre, Theresa Aarons, told the Sunday Observer that largely these are children coming from poor families.

“We see children from five to 18 years old, and most of the times these are children with low socio-economic backgrounds. I would say a majority of the children that come to us who have academic and behavioral challenges are from low socio-economic backgrounds

“A lot of the times they are low-functioning, meaning they are performing way below their age and grade level. They are not on par for their age expectations. Some are performing fairly well, but they have behavioural challenges that hinder them from learning in the classroom,” said Aarons.

The special educator also said that the centre frequently sees cases of children reading way below their age or grade level.

“Even children in high school are reading significantly way below their age and grade level, for example there are children in grade eight reading at pre-primary, which is the basic school level. We get those cases from time to time,” she said.

Aarons was speaking with the Sunday Observer on Monday at a primary school in St Andrew where the Kiwanis Club of West St Andrew, as part of a goodwill project, had solicited the services of the Mico CARE Centre to conduct a field assessment and screening of some 30 boys for possible learning and behavioural issues.

Conceptualiser and coordinator of the project, Marshalyn Rose, said the boys were specifically targeted for screening because of the growing concern that boys are underperforming in school.

“We targeted this programme specifically because we want to see if we can provide some kind of road map to help the school and the parents on the journey to helping the boys.

“They generally need the attention although we are not saying girls don't also need attention, but males figure heavily in the murder statistics; they are the major perpetrators and the major victims of crime and I think that is very telling. It is an indictment on us as a society as to how we are raising boys.

“We wanted to provide the support to the school and to the parents as a starter to the journey of assisting the boys based on the recommendations because of a lot of the problems that the boys have, we want to zero in on them and try to come up with the solutions,” said Rose.

In similar vein, Aarons indicated that many children with learning disorders remain undiagnosed and are being taught in mainstream classrooms.

“We see children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), and we see children with reading challenges, slow learning, dyslexia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia. We also see children who are on the spectrum; they have autism spectrum disorder and these are children who are sitting in a regular classroom.

“It is a grave problem because these children make up our mainstream classrooms, and they are highly populated and the teachers have so many children with so many different challenges, they can't reach and serve the need of all the children especially when they have these special needs,” said Aarons.

Child psychiatrist at the Child Guidance Clinic in the Kingston and St Andrew Health Department, Dr Ganesh Shetty, said the prevalence of learning disorders in boys coupled with post-traumatic stress causes them to act out more than girls.

“Boys more frequently have other disorders like attention deficit hyper activity disorder which, when left untreated and coupled with post traumatic stress, make them more aggressive and defiant.

“Plus, because of socialisation, boys are expected to toughen up and man up. Whereas being emotionally affected and expressing emotions through crying or by other means is tolerated from a girl, it is not from a boy. So their emotional distresses are invalidated at an early stage,” Dr Shetty explained.

“Parents and teachers see this as boys just being out of order and rude, and they come down on them heavy and beat them which only traumatise them even more,” he added.

“Also, the role models that boys have in some of these communities where bad is good and good is bad is another factor. You walk with a gun you get respect, you have a scar of a gunshot, you are a soldier.”

On average, Dr Shetty said one out of 20 children has ADHD in Jamaica, and that at least one out of 30 children has learning problems of some sort.

“If they are not diagnosed and treated, they will not do well in school and again they are either punished or labeled as dunce or rude. Eventually, they don't do well in GSAT or PEP and then they go to the schools where other children with more problems are already there,” said Dr Shetty.

Statistics from United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) 2019 overview on children in Jamaica show that three out of five adolescents not attending school are boys, while one out of three male youth is not engaged in employment, education or training.

It is further shown that 88 per cent of girls achieve mastery in literacy versus 72 per cent of boys, and 67 per cent of girls achieve mastery in mathematics versus 53 per cent of boys.

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