New Book Investigates Gender Gap in GCC Education
Al Qasimi Foundation
June 10, 2014
When Dr. Natasha Ridge arrived in Ras Al Khaimah as a teacher in 2001, she was not prepared for the struggle that she witnessed in her classroom. Among Western educators, conventional wisdom maintained that girls were at a disadvantage to boys in school settings, yet in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), boys were falling behind their female counterparts at alarming rates. The implications of this phenomenon are significant.
“Leaving boys behind in school will likely have a substantial impact in terms of private and social returns to education, and there are broader implications of this imbalance for the Gulf society at large,” explains Dr. Ridge.
Her experiences with local students motivated Dr. Ridge to focus her PhD research on boys’ education in the UAE. After becoming the Executive Director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in 2009, Dr. Ridge continued this research.
Now, Ridge’s findings have culminated in a pioneering volume on education in the Gulf region, Education and the Reverse Gender Divide in the Gulf States: Embracing the Global, Ignoring the Local.
Published by Columbia University’s Teachers College Press, this book examines the consequences of the gap between male and female school enrollment and how educational achievement favors girls not only in the UAE, but throughout the Gulf region.
It explains the complex reasons that boys often fall behind in educational system while exploring the implications for a society in which the majority of boys are less educated than are its girls—in particular, how such disparity will likely hurt future economic and social development in the Gulf.
“Several factors foster low achievement levels among boys in the GCC, which, in turn, negatively affect issues like health and crime, and these impact everyone,” explains Ms. Soha Shami, an Al Qasimi Foundation research associate who has explored educational and economic dynamics in the Emirates for several years with Dr. Ridge.
The economic and societal consequences of boys’ underachievement are clear to other scholars as well.
“This volume in a ‘must-read’ both for those concerned with gender issues in education and those interested in the social and economic development of the Middle East,” concludes University of Minnesota professor Dr. David W. Chapman.
This book represents a different approach to Gulf education studies in two ways. First, much of its qualitative data has been previously inaccessible to other researchers, meaning that the book—which includes over 30 pages outlining relevant academic resources—is an unprecedented tool for policymakers and researchers. Second, the stance that male students in the GCC are the ones who are disadvantaged challenges the idea, especially popular among Western academics, that girls take a backseat to boys in education.
“Analyzing relevant political, economic, and social factors, [Natasha Ridge] provides a critically important study . . . and offers thought provoking suggestions relevant in the Gulf countries and beyond,” observes Dr. Ann Austin, professor of education at the University of Michigan.
Although the book can function as a supplementary textbook for many disciplines such as the GCC region, economics, and education, the goal of the project is not solely academic. Its purpose is to facilitate change in policy that will better position both male students and the Gulf region to improve their social and economic prospects through education.
“My hope for this book is that it will equip and inspire people in this region to reinvest in the education of their young men and future of the Emirates,” says Dr. Ridge.
“For example, we’re now focusing on establishing Hands On Learning programs—which have reduced drop-out rates in Australia—in two local boys’ schools. We’re hopeful that the pilot, which will begin this September, will reengage boys in the classroom and in the wider community,” says Dr. Ridge.
Initiatives outside the UAE have already begun in response to the research presented in Education and the Reverse Gender Divide. Educators in Oman replicated one of Dr. Ridge’s studies and found similar results, and groups in Abu Dhabi, Muscat, and Washington D.C. have invited her to discuss the issue with key education stakeholders.
Overall, the message of Education and the Reverse Gender Divide remains somber yet hopeful: With timely research on this issue coming to the fore, Gulf communities cannot ignore the gender gap in education without risking long-term social and economic consequences, but they can look to the local and international communities for creative solutions to these challenges.
To learn more about Education and the Reverse Gender Divide in the Gulf States: Embracing the Global, Ignoring the Local or to purchase a copy, click here or visit the Teachers College Press page of Columbia University.