Boys' Underperformance

Gender disparity in education has usually been seen as disadvantaging girls. Although this continues to be the case in many places, the phenomenon of boys' underachievement — both in terms of participation and performance — has also become an issue in a number of countries.

For the Commonwealth Member States in the Caribbean, boys’ academic underperformance and high dropout rates are a matter of great concern. COL’s Strategic Plan 2015–2021 places particular emphasis on addressing this gender issue.

In 2006, the Commonwealth of Learning and Commonwealth Secretariat co-published Boys' Underachievement in Education: An Exploration in Selected Commonwealth Countries. It found that boys’ underachievement, both in terms of participation and performance, was a result of a complex interplay of forces, with roots in general characteristics of society as well as education systems. It further pointed to the solution lying in the expansion of school spaces and facilities, as well as challenging established notions of gender roles and stereotypes.

COL has commissioned a follow-up report, which aims to:

  • document the changes in participation and performance of boys in Commonwealth countries since 2006,
  • examine factors that continue to contribute to boys’ underperformance, and
  • summarise lessons learned from various interventions in different countries during the past ten years.

One of the major changes since 2006 documented in the upcoming report is that boys’ underperformance tends to arise where there is gender parity in education. As countries move towards greater gender parity in school participation, boys’ underperformance is being noticed more and more, and tends to be concentrated in literacy more than in any other learning area.

The report includes a range of recommendations, which include:

  • Schools and teachers should adopt a pedagogical process that enables and accommodates a diversity of students (including diversity in race, culture, class, ethnicity or religion) as a whole, over attempting to “masculinise” educational initiatives;
  • Governments, especially departments of education, should refocus on data collection, establishing disaggregated databases and developing specific methodologies by which these data are collected; and
  • The creation of safe spaces online for participation within the schooling system could help to identify the problems and issues that inhibit boys in schools.

The report will be published in Summer 2017.