August 3, 2002
At a press conference held during the five-day Fourth Caribbean Early Childhood Development Conference at the Ocean View Hotel last week, it was revealed that the Caribbean Development Bank (CDB) had received a proposal for funding of a study to determine the cause of young male underachievement in the Caribbean, from the Gender Studies Unit of the University of the West Indies.
One would hope that such a proposal would be favourably considered, since the effects of young male underachievement are myriad and affect not just the underachievers, but society at large. And it is a fact that in order to cure the disease, one should first know the cause of it. Among the troubling signs of this phenomenon in Guyana are the increase in street children, mainly boys, from as young as six years old; the legion of unemployed, unskilled males who 'lime' at street corners; the scores of new 'businessmen' who can barely write their names.
An article in the Sunday Stabroek of July 14, headlined 'Endangered species: more boys then girls drop out of school,' quoted from the Ministry of Education's five-year development plan (1995-2000), which revealed that more males than females entered the school system at the nursery and primary levels. But at the secondary level there were more females than males enrolling. There were also more male than female dropouts and more males than females repeating classes after not having acquired the desired pass mark at the secondary level. And in his column 'Ian on Sunday' of July 4, Dr Ian McDonald quoted figures obtained from the Caribbean Examinations Council, which showed that in Guyana, 3,572 males and 5,573 females wrote the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate examination last year. In the region, the figures were 44,674 males and 73,383 females.
Deputy Chief Education Officer, Romeo McAdam, had surmised that the exodus of qualified teachers and the fact that many homes lacked a male role model could be among the causes. He said the Ministry of Education recognised the problem and needed to plan interventions. However, Paediatric Epidemiologist and Head of the Department of Child Health, Faculty of Medical Sciences, UWI, Dr Maureen Samms-Vaughan, who was in Guyana for the Caribbean Early Childhood Development Conference, said she did not buy into the absentee father theory, pointing out, quite correctly, that many of the females who excelled came from such homes.
What is clear is that the problem exists. It is also evident that attempts at interventions, without the benefit of an explanation as to what is the root cause, would be tantamount to applying a band aid to a severed artery. It is unfortunate that the gravity of the problem was not recognised earlier, since such studies take time and this one has not even gotten past the proposal stage yet.
In the meantime, the endangered Caribbean male continues on the road to academic extinction. Many will opt for the 'quick dollar' and life in the 'fast lane' and will end up dead or in prison before the end of their 20s. Others will attempt entrepreneurial activities, some will fail and condemn themselves to a lifelong 'lime', bitter at the world, sure it is someone else's fault that opportunity passed them by.
The CDB Project Officer with responsibility for Human Resource Development, Desmond Durand, said this week, that while he could not pre-judge the bank's decision on the issue of funding for the proposed study, there were prospects for further collaboration on the issue. In the meantime, teachers should be advised to resist the temptation to consign 'bad boys' to the back-bench and leave them there. Parents, particularly single mothers, should be encouraged to give their boy and girl children equal attention. While this might not have a significant impact on the downward spiral, it surely will not do any harm.