UNICEF and CARICOM host Caribbean Discussion on Boys and Education
Barbados, Belize, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago 20 November, 2007 - “What is happening to boys in our education systems and what can we do about it?” are two questions that CARICOM and UNICEF hope to see answered during a two day sub-regional meeting in Belize on 21 and 22 November. Keeping boys in education and learning is a concern for a number of countries across the Caribbean and interestingly for a number of more developed countries including the USA, UK, Australia and New Zealand, as well as many countries in Latin America. Belize is hosting the Caribbean-wide meeting within a renewed commitment from the CARICOM community to childhood, and with a view to conveying concrete actions to the Special COHSOD on Children (March 2008) and the Heads of Government meeting in July of 2008.
The Caribbean meeting has attracted considerable high level interest from across the region with many countries acknowledging their struggle to keep boys engaged in education. It has also caught the imagination of countries that have traditionally played a leadership role globally in driving quality education for all – such as The Netherlands, or championing gender equality- such as Canada.
“The drop out rate of boys from our education system, their lower achievement in schools is a gender dimension which has not received the attention is deserves. Gender is often defined as ‘girls’ or ‘women’ and it should encompass both males and females. It is time we assessed education with a gender-neutral lens – identifying the causes of the challenges and what needs to be done for both girls and boys to ensure their right to quality education, that they remain as long as possible in school and achieve to their fullest potential” said Rana Flowers, UNICEF Belize Representative. “ECLAC predicts that grade repetition alone is costing the region somewhere in the vicinity of US $ 12 billion per annum – this is a valuable investment that could be better spent on further enriching our schools with programmes that engage and value our children” she added.
A number of distinguished academics who have passionately studied this phenomenon will provoke the debate and actively participate in a discussion designed to lead to clear recommendations for action. Joining the senior academics in defining the push and pull factors and identifying what must be done to stem the flow of boys – in particular too early from schools – will be practitioners, policy makers, school managers, Teacher’s Union representatives, and teachers themselves. These participants hail from a number of Caribbean countries and will bring a wealth of experience and a desire to turn around the situation in their own countries which include: Suriname, Guyana, Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, OECS, and Belize.
Children and adolescents themselves have also been interviewed across a number of countries and compelling video of their opinions and their demand that they be a part of the solution will be shared with participants. Focus groups with principals of schools here in Belize were also conducted in the lead-up to the meeting and their views via video will add a further dimension.
UNICEF Representative for Jamaica, Bertrand Bainvel, believes that “addressing the issue of boys’ dropout and under-achievement in the education systems will force us to look at the key dimensions of equity and quality within the Caribbean education system, as well as factors influencing this situation outside the system- such as poor employment opportunities in the formal sector, pervasive violence and its link with masculine identity, and parenting support. It is also a key opportunity to examine how schools can better foster a culture of respect for each other, improve relations and encourage the sharing of responsibilities between the two sexes, and ultimately produce long lasting changes in gender relations. As we know the price of exclusion is high- it is the price of costly remedial programmes, the price of violence, and the price of poor health and poorly informed decisions. We know all of this. What prevents us from turning this knowledge into action?” he said.
A part of the challenge rests with our commitment to plan for and implement ongoing educational reform, which must take into consideration many aspects including the rapid and continuous technological changes, the decline of labor-intensive technologies, as well as a growing recognition of the importance of emotional intelligence to economic productivity. Reform of education and training systems is therefore pivotal in preparing new generations, boys and girls, to address the new market demands and to capitalize on emerging opportunities” said Tom Olsen, UNICEF Representative for Barbados and the Eastern Caribbean Countries. Education is so much more than just “going to school” and showing up for the classes. The school and education system with strong support from the parents must include “character building” into the curriculum and a recognition that learning and being educated is so much more than qualifications in traditional curriculum areas”, Olsen added.
A complex array of factors that both inspire boys to remain in schools or propel them to leave are likely to be identified during the meeting, highlighting the need for a range of recommendations. These may encompass their socialization from birth, their early education opportunities, consider how we can help families better prepare boys, how schools can more effectively work with them, how the curriculum can be adjusted, and how we must help boys better deal with the pressures they feel to conform or to not be attracted by the short term promise of economic independence. Johannes Wedenig, UNICEF Representative for Guyana, Suriname and Trinidad and Tobago joined UNICEF colleagues in emphasizing that “the costs of not paying attention to this concern, of not addressing it effectively now, multiply enormously – not only for the child, but in economic losses to communities in the future. Keeping both girls AND boys in schools, allowing them to complete a quality education that is relevant for their lives is a crucial investment in the Caribbean. We simply cannot afford to continue to lose so many of our boys” he said.