From Risk to Resiliency: Jamaican Stakeholders Discuss Boys and Education at National Conference

July 13, 2010

KINGSTON, Jamaica, July 13, 2010.- "It may not be that our boys have failed, but that our systems have failed them." This is one idea that has sparked for community development practitioner Randy Finnekin after a recent conference on keeping boys out of risk, co-organized by the World Bank in Jamaica.

Mr. Finnekin, who works with the Spring Village Development Foundation Benevolent Society, was one of a number of Jamaican stakeholders - including representatives from government agencies, international development organizations, civil society groups and academia – who attended a conference on “Boys and Education – A life cycle approach to keeping boys out of risk,” organized by the World Bank, the Commonwealth Secretariat and the University of the West Indies (UWI), Mona on June 25 at the university campus in Kingston.

Participants examined research and on-the-ground interventions focused on boys and education. The aim of the conference was to identify gaps in programming as it responds to the research findings, as well as to identify additional research that may be required to inform interventions on the ground and future programming. The next step is to move towards developing a national action plan to address risk factors that impact boys’ education from birth to young adulthood.

We saw from the discussions that boys learn differently and that we need to engage them in the way they learn,” Mr. Finnekin noted.

In his opening remarks Jamaica’s Education Minister, Andrew Holness, said he hoped the conference discussion and follow-up activities would help provide answers to key questions about why boys underperform in the education system and changes that might be needed in the system and the curricula to engage boys more in education. One direct outcome of the conference was a roundtable of education and gender experts from UWI, the World Bank, and other international development partners to discuss these issues with the Minister.The conference was a national follow-up to the Regional Caribbean Conference on Keeping Boys Out of Risk, held last year with participation from 16 countries.

The regional initiative included best practices and was showcased at the World Bank’s annual meetings in Istanbul, Turkey.

Conference presentations showcased various interventions in education and training which engage boys – ranging from government programmes such as the National Youth Service and the Programme for Alternative Student Support to community-level projects implemented by NGOs such as Children First, Rise Life Management and Hope for Children. Overviews of research findings from the field came from UWI and USAID Jamaica.

Participants said they found the conference experience invaluable

For me the most important thing about the conference was the concepts discussed by stakeholders – about the need to keep focus on boys and to recognize that in dealing with boys and young men there is no ‘one-size-fits-all solution’,” Mr. Finnekin said.

He added that the experience was of great value to him as he not only works with boys in his community organization, but also serves as chairman of a local boy’s home “so for me the benefit goes much further.”

An important point made by both Dr. Barbara Bailey and Professor Mark Figueroa from UWI was the need to examine the constructs of masculinity in the Jamaican context and to see if these were compatible with the values and behaviours associated with educational achievement. Dr. Bailey underscored the fact that males in Jamaica still outperform females on all key indicators for social and economic progress, except for education. For Randy Finnekin, the conference discussions clearly “spoke to the need to address the social and cultural issues that impact our boys.”

A recent “En Breve” publication by the World Bank echoed this theme. In examining the Male Awareness Now (MAN) project being implemented by Children First in Jamaica, it noted that active participation of young men in the project design which allowed the “opportunity to identify key masculinity issues for discussions” was among key enabling factors identified for the project’s success.

The World Bank continues to work closely with national stakeholders to improve national and community-level systems which can support moving more Jamaican boys out of risk and into resiliency.