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Experts Warn of Trouble if Gulf Boys are Not Properly Educated

Roberta Pennington, The National
April 09, 2014

When it comes to boys' education in the GCC, the time has come to make a concerted effort to keep them in school or risk dire consequences, educators heard yesterday.

“Unless some effort is made to educate males in meaningful ways, there is, in my mind, certainly many social problems looming in the GCC,” Dr. Natasha Ridge, Executive Director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research, told an audience of educators at the annual Gulf Comparative Education Society symposium.

“On the one side crime, but on the other side radicalisation and sometime crime and then in-jail radicalisation. Gulf governments are going to have to make a choice about leaving young men to self destruct or introducing reforms that will help them.”

Girls continue to perform better than boys across the region in all subjects, in international and national standardised tests. Meanwhile, boys are more likely to repeat a grade, drop out of school, and are less likely to continue on to higher education, Dr. Ridge said, citing studies.

“While the successes of women and girls in the region are heralded internally and externally, the poor achievement and retention of boys goes unmentioned, except perhaps to serve as a comparison point for girls,” Dr. Ridge wrote in her new book, Education and the Reverse Gender Divide in the Gulf States. The book draws on five years of research to try to explain the education gap in the region, and why so little has been done to improve the educational achievements of boys.

Poorly educated boys were more likely to commit crimes, suffer from poor health and have a shorter lifespan, Dr. Ridge said. Last year, all of the Emirati inmates in Ras Al Khaimah were men and they made up 21 per cent of the prison population, according to her research.

“Evidence from elsewhere points to the value of education in reducing crime and improving health,” she said. “Obesity levels are on the rise across the GCC, with boys more obese than girls overall.”

Having poorly educated men in society also affects the social balance.

“There’s consequences for women, in terms of not being able to find suitable marriage partners, because women aren’t just looking for someone with a job, they’re looking for someone who is similarly educated,” Dr Ridge said.

Glen Poole, the author of Equality For Men, Helping Men and the forthcoming Integral Gender Theory, said education was one of the greatest roots to a successful life.

“If you have a good education, you’re more likely to have a good income, you’re more likely to live longer, you’re more likely to live a safe life, you’re less likely to be a victim of violence or crime,” Mr. Poole said. “And you’re more likely to pass on those benefits to your children.”

Both Mr. Poole and Dr. Ridge told of the need to increase the number of male role models – Emirati and otherwise – in schools.

While 80 percent of teachers in government schools for boys are expatriate men, Dr. Ridge said measures needed to be taken to “re-engage” them in educating the population by offering them better working conditions and making them feel more invested in the community.

She suggested revising the educational curriculum in the UAE so that it is more suited for boys, as well as allowing more room for trial-and-error learning. “Improving the curriculum in terms of making it more interesting, more engaging, more accessible, more interactive,” she said. “We need to create more incentives for males to be educated.”