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Are we driving black boys from the classroom?

MISPLACED IDEAS about masculinity are forcing many African-Caribbean schoolboys to choose to ‘hustle’ rather than get an education, a top Jamaican educator is expected to say in a speech tonight (Oct 21).

Dr. Adolph Cameron, who is scheduled to talk at this year’s Anthony Walker Memorial Lecture in Bristol, told The Voice that many boys in Jamaica see education as being “girly” or “gay” and hence abandon the classroom for informal entrepreneurship or hustling.

Cameron, who is secretary general of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA) told The Voice: “There is the issue of the boys’ perceiving education as a feminine activity and in the Jamaican context - where there is a very high negative perception and reaction to homosexuality - then boys would not want to be seen as too engaged in an activity that is regarded as feminine. One of our educational researchers found that the boys did not even want to speak what we call in Jamaica as ‘proper English’ because they would be regarded as feminine or gay by their counterparts.”

“…Rather than being engaged in mainstream economic activities, because of their limited education, they are involved in the informal activities – what we call ‘hustling’ in order to be able to survive. That is what they are engaged in as an alternative to being fully engaged in the educational enterprise where they gain the necessary skills to be employable.”

In his address, entitled Born to be Great, Promoting the Educational Achievement of Black Boys: Caribbean and UK Perspectives, Cameron is also expected to point out that black boys in the Caribbean and the UK are increasingly feeling alienated in local classrooms, which are not designed to engage them.

“…The way that education is arranged favours the performance of girls in terms of the curriculum. Girls are brought up to benefit from the way education is organised,” said Cameron.

He said many girls are better prepared to cope in current classrooms because at home they are given responsibilities, are expected to take on tasks and see them to completion “where as in the context of Jamaica, the boys are allowed to play and lack the sense of responsibility. In the classroom therefore, they don’t take education as seriously as the girls. Their ability for time and task is much more limited than the girls are,” said Cameron. “Boys need more hands on activities and in a lot of instances, it (a classroom) is much less activity oriented in the classroom therefore the girls, while being able to sit and deal with what is happening in the classroom, the boys would rather be more actively engaged. They are therefore found more engaged on the outside of the classroom.”

Currently, boys are lagging behind girls academically in Jamaica. GCSE statistics from the UK also showed that last year, only 40 percent of Afro-Caribbean boys gained five good GSCEs, below the national average of 58.5 percent.

COMMENTS: Dr. Adolph Cameron says black boys reject formal education and instead opt for informal entrepreneurship or hustling to appear more masculine

Cameron said to see boys excel, officials in Jamaica and the UK need to completely revamp their school curricula and teacher training to make classrooms more boy-friendly, with centres of excellence targeting boys and designing learning material to engage boys.

Dr. Cameron added: “As educators, we must examine what education has become. We must re-access market driven education, where, in many nations of the world, education serves the needs of businesses, rather than seeking to create holistic human beings. Such an approach will cause us to re-examine the factories our schools have become – geared more towards manufacturing passes rather than moulding personhood.”

He said the UK education officials – and their Caribbean counterparts - also need to have frank discussion and a better understanding of how colonialism and slavery has impacted on black children’s education.

“We have a colonial heritage where our education system is based on the British system,” Cameron said. “Then there is the issue of the lack of access to education of the slaves in the colonies and that had developed over time where for a long period of time there was limited access of the people in the Caribbean to education.”

He said research shows that colonial perceptions still pervade the education system today, leaving some children with a damaging legacy, where some of them link their life chances of success to how light their skin colour is.

He said while black children’s access to education has increased, deep racism remains in many instances – and often shows itself in the low expectations and quick and harsher punishments often meted out to black boys.

“The other thing we find is that the expectations of teachers in terms of boys as girls is lower,” he said.

He said for example, despite efforts to stamp out corporal punishment in Jamaica, boys face beatings in schools more often than girls. In the UK, data also shows that black children are three times more likely be excluded from school than white children.

Pointing to a UK based research report, Dr. Cameron said an archaic curriculum; negative peer pressure and inadequately funded schools with a high turnover of teachers also limited their chances of success.

“The insufficient level of involvement by some black parents is also singled out in the study. Black parents reported to the schools that they did not feel their input was welcome in the schools. The issues do not begin and end with the students and their parents. Students complained of struggling to overcome racism from many of their own teachers. The report says that relationships between black pupils and white teachers were generally characterized by ‘conflict and fear’.”

Dr. Cameron said parents and teachers’ having greater expectations of black boys is one of the biggest changes that need to happen in Jamaica and the UK to help more black young men realise they are born to be great.

“…If we have high expectations of them, it is likely that they will fulfil these expectations just as when we have low expectations of them, they fulfil these low expectations,” he told The Voice.

He also said there needs to be a bigger boost in black teachers and that existing educators – from all races - must make more effort to understand “the background and context where these children live and come from” to treat them properly in schools.

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