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The University of Trinidad and Tobago
Contemporary issues in Education

Research Paper
Factors that affect male under performance in schools in Trinidad and Tobago
Miah Jackson
Mr. Trevor Garcia
Tuesday 26th June,2018
The term male underachievement has been long standing the education system and has been addressed by many sources, however, the issue remains prevalent in the education system. The term underachievement may be defined as the fact of doing less well than expected, especially in the academic field. (Oxford Dictionary). The fact that females exceed males in the educational system has generated a lot of theories overtime, such as having to do with the influence of the different social systems and socio-economic factors but still this continues to be a major problem not only in Caribbean but also in the country of Trinidad and Tobago. The achievement gap between males and females in T&T is worrying academic professionals who have decided that it is time to focus on the reasons why males are not performing as well as their female counterparts. (Anna-Lisa Paul 2015). Offering several hypotheses regarding the frightening development of male under-achievement several theories stood out; family backgrounds; socioeconomic factors, teachers expectations and the school environment.
Theories and Practical Analyses
What the existing literature says
In Trinidad and Tobago, analysis of the 2004 national assessment and the 2003 Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) disclosed that female primary school students had a statistically outstanding lead across all assessments at different levels. However, this lead was small or negligible in and mathematics narrowed considerably at higher levels. However, in language arts and creative writing, differentials were greater, females toped this area. The lower achievement of males in language arts varied dramatically across ability groups and regions, with the gender gap much reduced for higher ability students from urban educational districts (De Lisle et al., 2005).

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In the top year of primary schools, boys were found in the lower streams and girls in the higher streams within their schools (Kutnick, Jules, & Layne, 1997). Secondary level across the Caribbean, the data from the Caribbean Examinations Council’s (CXC) examinations in the 1990s showed that, in general, more girls were sitting examinations and excelling in subjects that are traditionally female, with boys achieving at higher levels in those subjects that are considered the preserve of boys (Addressing male underperformance,? 1997).
However, in 2005, George found that girls in Trinidad and Tobago were outperforming boys in every subject area except mathematics at certain levels. In addition, in physics, girls were outperforming boys in Grades I-III combined. There are several researches that have been published on the gender gap in educational achievement where girls seem to be out performing boys. Indeed, in a recent preliminary study of gender differentials in educational achievement in all subjects at the CXC-CSEC level during the period 2000-2004, George (2005) found that girls in Trinidad and Tobago performed at least as well as boys and, in many cases, outperformed boys. Similarly, in an analysis of performance at the CEE/SEA examinations over the period 1995-2003, George (2004) found that females outperformed males in every subtest of these examinations in each of the years.
In the Trinidad and Tobago context, this is indeed the practice and, in the absence of the adoption of clearly defined standards of performance, the practice is likely to persist. Most Caribbean research with respect to gender in education can be categorised as research that fits into gendered socialization paradigms, such as sex-role stereotyping, inequalities in access, disparities in achievement and patterns of curriculum participation (Bailey 2002).

Most of the major policy documents issued by the Ministry of Education (MOE) and other ministries and government agencies concerned with the education and training of the children and young people of Trinidad and Tobago, explicitly address the rights of all children, regardless of gender, class, race, ethnicity, religion, disability, geographical location, or socio-economic background, to an education that will develop their potential to the fullest (Education Policy Paper, 1994; National Report on the Development of Education, 2008; National Youth Policy, 2005; Standards and Guidelines for the Operation of All Schools, 2007).

Factors that influence Male underachievement
The relationship that lies between school achievement and family structures, with boys from single-parent homes, especially women-headed households, seem to underperform more than children from coupled families. Proving these researches reported that fathers do serve as good role models for reading skills as compared with mothers in Australia and New Zealand (Cuttance ; Thompson, 2008). Given that no similar characteristics have been recorded for mothers, it is hard to tell whether the problem is the role model of fathers, or just the lack of two supervisory parents. A study based on parental survey and attitude in Seychelles showed high correlations between boys’ achievement and the family structure, the educational attainment of the parents, and the parents’ views on equality. If the parents treated the boys on an equal footing with the girls, boys’ performance in school was better (Geisler & Pardiwalla, 2010). One problem with focusing on male role-modelling with the family is that it tends to neglect the larger context of religious and other societal structures, which also influence the relationship between dominant masculinities and school achievement (Frank, Kehler, Lovell, & Davison, 2003). For instance, the Church continues to hold a very important place in Samoan society, and church-run schools tend to promote very gender-stereotypical socialization. Gender notions of what is feminine and what is masculine are very strong, and schools, especially those run by churches, tend to reinforce those in every respect (Afamasaga, 2009). Clarke (2005) A similar phenomenon was noted in the Caribbean.

Teacher Expectations
The teachers, the school, and the practices that find their expression in the school are important to the extent that they may both exacerbate and address the issue of boys’ underachievement. What becomes most important here is whether the school is aware and successful in recognizing, and then in breaking, the images and expectations related to class, ethnicity, race, and gender, that may or may not be experienced outside school from an early age. The educational curriculum states that Teacher attitudes and expectations play a major role in children’s performance. In Jamaica, for instance, teacher–student interactions differed in terms of participation and level of feedback, depending on teacher expectations (Clarke, 2005). Moreover, some evidence indicates that boys react to teachers’ expectations about their poor performance, and it is likely that even those boys who want to study are not supported by the schooling system and the larger hegemonic masculine discourse that negatively influences boys’ academic behaviour (Watson-Williams & Riddell, 2011). A study of schools in the Seychelles concluded that the expectation that boys perform and behave less well than girls partially accounts for a lack of interest in school among boys (Ministry of Education and Youth, 2002). Another study from the Seychelles supported the notion that many of the school processes and procedures, teacher attitudes and expectations were heavily gendered and were seen to be working against the interests generally of boys, affecting their participation and educational outcomes. Girls were the preferred gender at school and teachers held high expectations for them, while boys were labelled as lazy, irresponsible, and lacking motivation. Boys were also clustered in the low-ability classes because of ability-streaming practices. (Geisler & Pardiwalla, 2010, p. 66)

Socioeconomic Factors
Socioeconomic factors are social and economic experiences that help shape personality, attitudes and lifestyle. Some of the factors identified include social class, residence, with whom the child lives, household income, parent’s occupation, financial constraints, community and school violence. It has been noted that the importance of social class can lead towards male academic underperformance, where the issues of instability and harshness of life are most evident. While there are fewer positive role models for boys within the educational system, there are many role models for them on the streets of communities. Tinklin et al. (2001) suggest that socio-economic disadvantage is still a major source of underachievement, and that other factors affecting achievement include peer influence, the interaction of teaching and learning styles, teacher student relationships and classroom interaction, curriculum content and assessment methods, and parental and societal influences. These factors can be positive or negative depending on how they interpret the message from their influencers and how they use to shape their lives.

Male role models
The researchers studying male underachievement in early years have emphasized the importance of having a male role model. It is often suggested that female teachers are responsible for boys’ underperformance because they do not know how to deal with boys, or because the prevalence of women in the profession makes boys think of it as a female-only profession (Jha et al., 2012). However, other research, especially Brownhill (2010), contends that this is too simplistic a formulation to justify a “male model” scenario. This model has also been critiqued for its “one-dimensional, essentialist way of conceiving gender” (Brownhill, 2010, p. 3). Nonetheless, given the evidence that gendered notions of academic engagement are socially constructed, one of the often-repeated recommendations to remedy boys’ participation in the educational system is to create male role models that can embody the benefits of education and can work against the hegemonic, anti-school discourse (Brownhill, 2014). These remedies usually arise from the idea that working-class boys often are living in households headed by a single adult female and therefore lack a “male presence” in their lives (Burns ; Bracey, 2001). In addition, it is also often believed that “feminization” of the teaching profession and schools has meant that there are not enough positive role models for boys, and that in some cases, teachers might discriminate against boys (Clarke, 2005). Even school administrators believe that the masculine form of teaching strict, disciplinarian, and aggressive is the only form of dealing with laddish kids in the class and that these values have significant social power (Jackson, 2010). In Trinidad and Tobago, male teachers were observed to be perpetuating prevalent masculine stereotypes by embodying behaviours similar to those of their male students and therefore legitimizing “masculinity” (Mohammed, 2009). The very idea of more male role models is problematic if the same hegemonic masculinity that is documented to be one of the factors working against boys’ achievement is also imitated by role models themselves (Brownhill, 2014).
Page and Jha’s (2009) multicounty study, Seychelles, Trinidad and Tobago, Malaysia, Pakistan, India, and Nigeria, concluded that gender sensitivity and other competencies, not being male or female, supported meaningful engagement with boys and girls alike. In other words, the modelling of desirable characteristics and qualities that children would like to emulate is not restricted to only one of the genders (Brownhill, 2010). Therefore the hiring of male teachers to boost boys’ underachievement has been heavily contested as being simplistic and not based on the complexity of influences that underlie boys’ underachievement in schools (Brownhill, 2014).

School environment and culture
Certain practices adopted by educational systems and individual schools have been identified as possible causes for male underachievement (De Lisle, 1997; Evans, 1999). Among these are the hierarchical selective school system and ability grouping/streaming within schools and classrooms, corporal punishment, and insults. These practices appear to demotivate students and lessen their commitment to their academic work. Jha and Kelleher (2006) identified the drill to kill? teaching and learning methods used in Jamaican schools as increasingly marginalizing boys and many girls from the schooling process. In her case study school in Trinidad and Tobago, Lall (2004) found that there was a lack of early professional intervention in the academic careers of underachieving boys. Their underachievement was continued for too long without the services of a psychologist. When these services were provided, it was after two years of academic underachievement and at the expense of the parents. Davis (2001, 2007) notes that primary schools, particularly those in low-income and under-resourced areas, have traditionally been neglected, underfunded, and burdened with limited parental and community support. He argues that because of complex social and economic reasons, young males in these school settings are acutely at risk for limited achievement and school disengagement. He laments that for many boys, schools ignore their aspirations, disrespect their ability to learn, fail to access and cultivate their many talents, and impose a restrictive range of their options. Within this overwhelmingly oppressive scholarly context, too many boys simply give up, beaten down by a socialization to school that places too little value on who they really are and what they offer.

Proposed solutions
Teacher Education
In recognition of the importance of teacher education in addressing the problem of male underachievement, Clarke (2004–2005) reviewed the revised teacher preparation curriculum in Jamaica and found that it has incorporated salient issues and approaches to help student teachers contend with their roles in the socialization of boys (and girls). Students pursuing the careers education option are required to discuss gender differences in learning styles and academic achievement in boys and girls; issues of male academic underachievement, the absence of male role models at home and school; curriculum appropriateness and relevance to the developmental needs of boys; and differences in expectations regarding boy ‘s and girls ‘behaviour, among other topics. The response of teacher education to gender socialization in Caribbean countries is seen as encouraging because of the structure of these educational programmes.
Although a gender gap is visible in the data for most cases where performance has been measured since the early years of schooling, most of the available research and literature have delved into differences between adolescent boys and girls. This is perhaps because the trends become more obvious and the traits associated with underperforming boys become much more visible in later years. However, there are enough pointers available in the literature to suggest that the lessons learned about the phenomenon from later years can be applied to understand the gaps in the early years as well. In fact, the argument for starting interventions early is present throughout, as gaps in later years are often attributed to contributing factors that were left unaddressed in the early years. As the education system continues to evolve, male underachievement can become extinct if we vigorously attack the underlying issues that continue to affect the males in our society, shaping not only the minds but the character of the individuals we educate. Education plus character – that is the goal of true education. (Martin Luther King)
Elizabeth Solomon. (2017, October 31). The Boys Problem. Newsday Trinidad and Tobago. Retrieved from
June George (Principal Investigator) Lynda Quamina-Aiyejina Margaret Cain Crista Mohammed. (2009). GENDER ISSUES IN EDUCATION AND INTERVENTION STRATEGIES TO INCREASE PARTICIPATION OF BOYS.

Jyotsna Jha and Fatimah Kelleher. (2006). Boys’ Underachievement in Education An Exploration in Selected Commonwealth Countries.

Lander, V. (n.d.). Boys, Girls, Gender Issues and Achievement. Diversity, Equality and Achievement in Education, 81-96. doi:10.4135/9781446288689.n6

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