The Fourth Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning (PCF4)
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Mark Figueroa

Addressing Gender Differentials in Educational Achievement: A Caribbean Perspective

Mark Figueroa
Faculty of Social Sciences, The University of the West Indies

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     Last modified: October 20, 2006

Gender differentials in education vary widely from one global area to another. Keeping girls in school represents a significant challenge in many countries while it is the underachievement by boys that makes the headlines in the English-speaking Caribbean. Yet this was not the situation a few decades ago.

The shifting gender patterns in Caribbean education elicited an early response in terms of “Male Marginalization” and later “Male Under-Performance”; while I have argued for a focus on differential levels of gender participation, performance and achievement that are rooted in “Gender Privileging”. The appeal of this perspective is that it explains the full range of differential gender outcomes across space and time while providing win win solutions to a range of problems.

The focus on male underachievement overlooks many complexities and promotes solutions that favour boys. Given a broad history of male privileging, such solutions are ultimately self-defeating. The Caribbean case demonstrates that male underachievement is an ironic outcome of historic male privileging. Further privileging of boys is therefore not the answer.

Gender socialization, culture and expectations create a range of disabilities that manifest themselves to a greater or lesser extent among boys and girls. At the same time these deficiencies are not manifested universally in all boys or girls. There are high performing boys in areas such as language and the humanities where girls have the upper hand just as there are high performing girls in technical drawing and engineering where boys tend to dominate.

Rather than seeking solutions such as segregated class rooms or lowering entry standards for boys we should be examining the areas in which many boys (and girls) are week such as reading and language usage and providing support. Rather than seeking to make classrooms boy friendly to deal with their boredom we need to ask what is it in the educational system that causes so many children to tune out.

Indeed the current focus on the problems of boys once more underlies the need to make education student centred. In this context the availability of new technologies and the opportunities posed by the application of open, distance and technology-mediated learning present new sites for the creation of gender differentials just as they provide possibilities for overcoming them.

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