Jamaica Leading Project to Address Underachievement in Boys


Jamaica is the lead country in a Caribbean-wide project, aimed at developing programmes and strategies to address educational underachievement in boys.

The initiative, dubbed ‘Advancing the Education of Boys’, is being undertaken as a pilot in Jamaica and three other Caribbean countries through funding and expertise from the Commonwealth Secretariat. It is expected to last for last three years.

It is being executed locally by the Ministry of Education, through the Jamaica Teaching Council (JTC) and the Commonwealth Secretariat.

Education Programme Officer for the Commonwealth Secretariat, Hipolina Josephs, tells JIS News that the initiative is in response to the need for support identified by member countries at a consultation in Jamaica a few years ago.

“We understand the gravity of the problem when it comes to the achievement of our boys and, in as much as it is an educational problem, we are also aware of the wider impact it has on society and socio-economic development,” she says.

She informs that the Secretariat is now working in different areas to assist with improving the educational outcomes of boys in the four countries selected for the initiative. The other countries are Trinidad and Tobago, St. Lucia, “and one other country that we are in consultation with. We haven’t quite agreed on what exactly we want to do,” Ms. Josephs informs.

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She says Jamaica has taken the lead in the initiative, which was officially launched in Kingston in May, and is well on its way in terms of its readiness for implementation. She notes that lessons learnt from the project locally, will inform the process in the other countries.

“We have had varying levels of activities in the different countries, but Jamaica is more advanced…We are going to use the impact of the strategies that we develop and implement and share that with the rest of the region. So…whatever benefits that come out of Jamaica…we put it together and we think that the rest of the Commonwealth Caribbean and the rest of the Caribbean, including the CARICOM member countries, will be able to benefit from what we are doing in Jamaica,” she points out.

“So, it is something that we are committed to, we’re taking very seriously and we’re very pleased that Jamaica is moving forward and we’re looking forward to using our work in Jamaica and the other countries to share and inform, moving forward implementation of strategies in other countries in the region,” she adds.

Providing further details on the project, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the JTC, Dr. Winsome Gordon, informs that in this initial phase, 13 schools have been selected from regions one, two and three, to participate in the initiative.

She says the selections were based on accessibility and comprise: Jamaica College (JC), Camperdown, Donald Quarrie, Vauxhall, and Dunoon Park Technical High in region one; Islington High, St. Mary Technical, and Oracabessa high schools, in region two; and Ferncourt, Aabuthnott Gallimore, Brown’s Town, and Ocho Rios high schools in region three.

JC will be the control school, while the other 12 institutions will be treated to the interventions. “The strategies that we develop will be implemented in the 12 schools. We will see the difference in performance between those schools and JC or the relationship in performance,” Dr. Gordon tells JIS News.

A team has been assembled to conduct a baseline study to determine the best strategies to raise the performance of the young men in Jamaica and prepare the implementation strategy to go forward.

It comprises Team Leader, Evaluation Consultant based in Canada, Halcyon Louis; Chancellor of the Mico University College, Professor Errol Miller; Public Policy and Media Analyst based in Canada, Mark Daku; and Educational Research and Development Expert, Dr. Grace Monroe.

Ms. Louis tells JIS News that the baseline study will involve the development of a framework to equip schools to monitor the progress of the young men and allow them to achieve their full potential.

“What we will be doing is adopting a participatory approach and in doing this, we will be consulting with the boys, their teachers, school principals, personnel at the Ministry and the QEC (Quality Education Circles) as well as the JTC to more or less determine how we can improve the performance of the young men,” she informs.

The QEC is an education community that is used as a strategy to improve the quality of education at all levels of the education system, from early childhood to tertiary.

Ms. Louis says a template will be developed to be completed by principals of the project schools, which will focus on a list of variables that have already been put together by stakeholders on the perceived factors that are impeding the performance of young men.

“We are also going to be conducting one-to-one sessions with principals as well as teachers and we are also going to be engaging the boys in a fact finding mission, so to speak, to capture other factors that have not been foreseen as regards to the overall pandemic of boys’ underachievement in the country,” she says.

Dr. Gordon notes that following the completion of the baseline study, which will also look at the school’s resources, both human and financial, “then we’ll be able to set targets of achievement in the schools.”

“Of course, we are not just going to say they do better in CXC or in the academic programmes, achievement is going to be assessed in their overall performance – academic, non-academic, (and) technical,” she explains.

“How boys behave…who they become, knowing themselves, their self-identity and so on – we’ll be concerned with that dimension of development. So it is the cognitive domain and the affective domain that we will address in the project,” she informs.

Dr. Gordon says it is anticipated that the project will go well and will result in boys doing better.

“We expect that they will be more focused, the classrooms will be more engaging, because, at the end of the day, we must find out those teaching strategies that enable boys. So, we want to see more enabling classrooms and therefore, we will focus on training teachers to enable boys to learn,” she says.

Dr. Gordon notes that the Ministry is already working with the Commonwealth Secretariat, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), and United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), to look at issues and challenges contributing to the performance of boys in Jamaica.

Remedial programmes have also introduced to improve the educational opportunities for students, most of which are targeted at boys.

The CEO notes that “our boys are very bright”, and just need proper guidance and support.

“The girls are more settled when it comes to reading and studying and so on, but (the boys) find themselves more restless. They don’t want to sit down for too long …at the same time, they are bright boys, they just need the opportunity and the kind of environment that will bring out the best in them and that’s our aspiration, to bring out the best in our boys,” she states.

Dr. Gordon is appealing to the public to “join us in this endeavour”, which she says, is vital to Jamaica’s future.

“Everybody, every parent, every business place, every church, every pastor, every politician to get on board with us in helping to improve the achievement levels of our boys and therefore their productivity,” she commends.

Contact: Alecia Smith-Edwards

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