Jamaica: Gender-fair Schools stem boys' anger.
KINGSTON, Jamaica, and NEW YORK, 7 November 2005 - School life for boys and girls at Children First in Spanish Town, St. Catherine is very different from most other schools. Here, students have a say in rules and sanctions, evaluate their teachers and director and make recommendations for faculty behaviour.
The Children First programme caters to children that dropped out or never attended school and are bruised by marginlization, low self-esteem and violence in their communities.
Almost two thirds of the 975 children in the UNICEF-supported programme are boys. According to Ms. Thompson, most of the youth grow up without a father as many men "are in prison, dead due to violence or don't care".
Experts have long linked male under-achievement to exposure to violence in childhood which in turn, is associated with aggression in adulthood. In Jamaica, corporal punishment is still used and if a child doesn't get it at school they will get it at home.
Legislation to regulate basic schools, passed in early 2005, imposes a $250,000 fine for beating children. But for many students, school is still a humiliating and punishing place.
Eighteen-year old Damian* dropped out because he didn't perform well academically and because he didn't get along with the teachers. He wanted them to hear what he had to say and to explain what he didn't understand, but they kept shouting instead. When he saw a boy beaten with a belt by a teacher and then retaliate with a chair, he stopped going to school. Studying at Children First has inspired Damian's ambition to become an architect. But he is realistic. "One of my big fears is anger" he says. "That I won't be able to overcome my anger".
UNESCO estimates that in Jamaica, 95% of girls and 94% of boys are in primary school, but only 88% of males make it to grade 5, compared to 93% of females. Only 10% of males go to university compared to 25% of females. The adult literacy rate is 84 for males and 91 for females.
"If boys are in school and they work hard, they do excel and achieve just as well as girls", says Dr. Barry Chevannes, professor of social anthpology at the University of the West Indies, in a recent interview for UNICEF's upcoming Gender Achievements and Prospects in Education report. "So the question is their under-participation" he adds.
Teachers at Oxford Remedial School in Kingsotn, a project of the National Initiative for Street Children, try to influence parenting practices. They ask parents of their 8 to 18 year old students - almost all male- not to beat the boys and instead be more affectionate. "The children crave to be hugged by us" says Una Williams, co-ordinator of the project. "They say that at home, they only get shouted at."
Breaking the cycle
Government measures such as the Child Care and Protection Act 2004, enforced by the Child Development Agency, makes reporting of child abuse cases mandatory, and the newly formed Early Childhood Commission regulates national early childhood services and sets strict standards for the treatment of children.
Most importantly, men are organizing in response to stereotypes of males as irresponsible fathers. They run seminars to sensitize fathers and to attract positive publicity to fatherhood. One of the first fathers groups was founded by Dr. Chevannes in 1991.
Student participation and teaching methods such as those practised by Children First and Oxford Remedial School are setting a trend to follow.
Don't forget the girls