An April 2018 Policy Paper of UNESCO shows that boys are at a greater disadvantage than girls in secondary education and beyond. Another fact that puzzled policymakers is that boys are increasingly performing less well in an assessment of reading skills worldwide.
The findings are that boys, especially those in poor countries are not engaged with the school community and due to poverty they are forced to join the labour market. Keeping in view the global goal of attaining 100% secondary education by 2030, this increasing disadvantage of boys’ is however considered a hindrance to achieving that. UNESCO also viewed this as a potential method to lower violence rates and future abuse of the kids.
Gender Equality and Improving Education Outcomes for Boys
The report cites previous studies like International Men And Gender Equality Survey (IMAGES 2009 and 2010) that showed uneducated men are more likely to have discriminatory gender views than educated ones. Researchers found through IMAGES survey that experiencing or witnessing violence at home makes a child more prone to be a future victim or perpetrator of violence.
Taking examples from the study of Humphreys and Weinstein, 2008, the report states that during Sierra Leone civil war it was found that an uneducated boy was nine times more likely to join warring groups; Study by Imbusch et al., 2011 showed that in countries like Brazil, no education led these children to drug abuse and drug trades.
In countries like India, Nigeria, Pakistan, Ethiopia and Congo father’s education made a difference in vaccination of the children.
Boys’ Education Disadvantage Around the Globe
This report showed that boys are a greater disadvantage in upper-secondary completion and in post-secondary education in richer regions of Latin America and the Caribbean and in Europe and North America.
The report showed that in Latin America and the Caribbean for every 100 girls 96 males have completed primary education, 94 lower secondary, 91 upper secondary and 83 boys have attended post-secondary schooling. The situation had been the same in this region since 1997 and for every 100 girls, there were only 90 males who enrolled for post-secondary education.
Globally, it was found that 6% countries had gender disparity in education at the expense of boys in primary enrolment, 17% in lower-secondary and 45% in upper secondary education. It was found that the change of pace for addressing boys’ education disparity has been slower than that of girls since the year 2000.
The UNESCO report found a reversing of the gender disparity in education in some countries like India and Senegal. In these countries in 2000, only 85 girls enrolled in primary education in every 100 boys. However, in 2016 it was just reversed.
In Gambia and Nepal where fewer girls enrolled in Primary education in the year 2000 (70 in 100 boys), the trend was reversed to discriminate boys in the year 2016.
Increasing Disparity in Boys’ Reading Skills
It was observed that while the gender disparity in mathematics and science was lowered and more girls came up to excel in these fields; in terms of reading skills, boys were found to be increasingly more at disadvantage. The gap in reading skill found in Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), 2016 where the 4th Grade students of OECD countries participated, was one-third of a school year. By the end of lower secondary education, however, this gap was found to have widened. The students from the same countries were found to have two-thirds of a school-year reading skill disparity against boys among 15-year-old students. This showed that the gender disparity of reading skills only increases over the school-years.
A long time-series analysis of reading gap has shown that in earlier years like in 2009 there was not so steep increase in the gender gap in reading skills.
However, another study of reading skills assessment of the same student at the age of 27 years has shown increased gender parity and low-performing males performing better. This is attributed to the peer pressure on male students in school days to be less attentive in assessments.
Factors Leading to Boys’ Disadvantage in Education
Mainly two factors are attributed to this disadvantage of boys. One, Poverty that forces the boys’ to work and two, the gender norms and expectations of the boys to be providers.
1. Poverty – The Key Driver For Boys Dropping Out
Poverty is found to be the key driver against boys’ education. An easy pull mechanism in the labour force for the boys makes it easy for these poor boys to join the labour force and drop out of education.
Poor boys face maximum marginalization in education in Latin American, Caribbean and South-East Asian countries.
In countries like Columbia, Brazil, Dominican Republic, Sweden, Slovenia, Poland etc. poverty plays a major role in discriminating boys in education from Secondary education. In some other countries like Honduras and Italy, this is almost linear and steep increase in all levels. In countries like Bangladesh, Malawi and Panama however, poverty leads to discrimination against girls’ education.
In India, the poverty-stricken boys are mostly from migrant communities where they live far from their schools. Sometimes the schools near the construction sites where their parents work may not be willing to enrol these boys. So, these boys have no option but to drop out of schools.
Studies of Côrtes Neri et al., 2005; and Duryea et al., 2007 found that a poor boy has 46% more probability in dropping out of education system when the household income suddenly falls.
The study showed that poverty also leads to lower attainment in Europe and in North America. In Italy, 83 poor males completed upper-secondary education and only 66 poor boys attended post-secondary education in every 100 poor female students.
In poverty-stricken countries like Botswana, Lesotho and Namibia poor boys are more likely to be taken out of education system than poor girls. This basically depends on the social structure of the country and available jobs (Jha and Kelleher, 2006).
School Environment Leads to Boys’ Disengagement from Education
Another finding in the report is that boys may be socially structured to disengage from education. The report says, existing social and gender norms and social conditioning may lead to drop-out of boys who do not want to value education system.
This may be due to several factors –
2. Violent Environment and Inappropriate Disciplinary Methods in Schools
A 2013 RTI International report showed that violent behaviour like physical violence and bullying inside and outside schools may lead to boys’ disengagement from schools. This may lead to disengagement from education and engaging in risky behaviour. Like in Trinidad and Tobago, poorer boys formed school gangs (UNDP, 2012).
3. More Corporal Punishment for Boys in Education System
The existing gender stereotypes make the teachers perceive boys as more tough and undisciplined. As a result, boys experience more corporal punishment than girls. It’s specifically found that in Mongolia boys suffer more corporal punishment and that leads them to drop out from schools.
A 2014 report from Human Rights Watch showed that poor boys from Adivasi and marginalized communities in India often experience higher levels of corporal punishment that leads them to discontinue their education.
A 2017 study by Robison et. al. also found another form of punishment of boys that excludes them from the education system. Boys in southern parts of United States graduate 10% lesser in numbers due to frequent expulsion from classes or suspension. These boys eventually get engaged in conflict with the juvenile justice system.
4. Unsupportive Teaching Staff
It is found that a diverse and supportive teaching staff can ensure a gender-balanced achievement of boys. In this matter, UNESCO recommends having more male teachers in pre-primary and primary education and more female teachers in Science and Mathematics in secondary and higher-secondary education.
Teachers very often think of boys as lazy and have low academic expectation from boys in many countries. As a result, boys suffer from low self-esteem and perform badly in education. Teachers in Malaysia, Samoa, Seychelles, and Trinidad and Tobago were found to have low expectation from boy students in terms of academic success.
5. Early Tracking and Streaming of Boys in Schools
When boys are kept in same classes with students of lower academic ability, they suffer from low self-esteem and motivation which leads to further disengagement from education. In Seychelles for example, a wide Reading-Skill gap exists and there boys are more likely to be kept in lower classes than girls on the premise that they were more disruptive in the class.
UNESCO Recommendations – Mainstreaming of Boys
UNESCO has following recommendations for mainstreaming of boys –
1. Lower Cost of Schooling for the poor
Conditional cash transfer to the individual or the family with the condition that the child is regularly attending school, can take care of financial issues faced by poor households and also increase attendance and learning.
Studies showed, that such conditional cash transfer to poor students increased the performance of poor boys in Nicaragua. In Jamaica, urban students who received such grants performed 4% better in their sixth-grade exams compared to the non-receivers. However, the same program didn’t have any effect on girls’ performance, due to maybe they were already achieving higher scores.
2. Develop Boys’ Reading Skills
Boys’ gender identity influences their social concept as readers. For marginalized boys who hardly have any role models, development of reading skills is a big challenge.
Specific intervention methods to improve boys’ reading skills that created positive reading stars to inculcate reading habits among male students took place in different countries. In England, a program called Reading Star was successful but in South Africa, a similar technology based program FunDza was unsuccessful due to non-participation of boys.
3. Address Gender Stereotypes in Schools
Gender Stereotypes prevailing in schools can form gender attitude of adolescents. However, a study by Barker et. al., 2012 found that boys often face discriminatory forms of violence and as a result get disengaged from the education system.
A similar intervention program in India is called Gender Equity Movement in Schools (GEMS). This was a program to challenge existing gender roles and norms existing in India.
4. Including Wider School Community
These initiatives spread across a bigger community that stretches beyond schools in clubs, sports teams, work areas etc. In these activities, weekend workshops on diversity, rights and citizenship helped build stronger communities and address gender-related issues.