Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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Leave no boy behind

Aqilah Rahman

While disadvantages and inequalities in education are prominent among girls, boys tend to face challenges at later stages according to the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) new report, ‘Leave No Child Behind’, which focusses on boys’ disengagement from education.

In many countries, boys have poorer learning outcomes in school and fail to complete their education. No less than 132 million boys of primary and secondary school age are out of school. Fewer boys than girls are enrolled in upper-secondary education in 73 countries, while the opposite is the case in 48 countries. For tertiary education, only 88 young men are enrolled for every 100 young women.

Young men are underrepresented in higher education in all regions except sub-Saharan Africa.

This trend is prominent in North America, Western Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean where only 81 young men are enrolled for every 100 young women at tertiary education.

Other regions with a similar trend include East Asia and the Pacific (87), Arab States and the Central and Eastern Europe region (91).

Poverty and the necessity to work are significant factors to dropout rates among boys.

Poverty, in particular, has taken a toll on the learning progress among boys as they fall behind in academics. Based on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) 2018 survey participated by 79 countries and economies, a significant number of boys had poor reading skills. In 24 countries, over 70 per cent of boys from the poorest income quintile did not achieve the minimum proficiency reading levels.

In 57 countries with data, boys aged 10 performed worse than girls in mastering reading skills, and a similar trend was observed at the secondary level. This is particularly prominent in East Asia and the Pacific, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the Arab States where boys are at high risk of dropping out.

The lack of a protective legal framework is one of the main drivers of child labour. In 2020, 160 million children were engaged in labour activity, of which 60 per cent were boys. Of 146 countries with data, only 55 have a minimum age of employment aligned with the end of the countries’ stipulated years of compulsory education and above 15. Meanwhile, almost a third have a minimum age for employment below 15 or not clearly defined.

Boys are also pressured by social norms and gender stereotypes to choose certain jobs, which can prompt them to leave school early especially if the labour market has a low barrier of entry.

In schools, various factors can have a negative impact on boys’ learning outcomes and retention such as bias and low expectations of teachers, streaming by ability, grade repetition, authoritarian environment, harsh discipline and violence. Peer pressure, along with the lack of family support, also influences boys’ retention and performance at school.

Policies to address boys’ lack of engagement in education are predominantly in high-income countries. Few low- or middle-income countries have implemented policies to increase boys’ enrolment and completion rates in primary or secondary education.

The policy review shows that options to address boys’ disengagement from and disadvantage in education include: reducing the cost of schooling, improving school infrastructure, improving the accessibility and quality of pre-primary education, providing remedial support and non-formal education to support the return to education, avoiding streaming and segregation, improving teacher quality and recruitment, curriculum and pedagogy, banning corporal punishment and tackling gender-based violence.

UNESCO also highlighted that the report is not an overall comparative study of boys and girls. Instead, it focusses on countries and cases where boys struggle to gain access to education and progress in their studies.

The report highlights that supporting boys does not mean that girls lose out, and equal education opportunities benefit both girls and boys and the broader society.

While improving educational opportunities for girls globally continues to be important in achieving gender equality in and through education, the report notes that the focus on achieving gender parity and equality must also include boys in line with the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development which commits to leaving no one behind.