Une étude sur la situation des garçons dans le monde dont nous avons extraits plusieurs passages :
Jordan has never had a female minister of education, women make up less than a fifth of its workforce, and women hold just 4 percent of board seats at public companies there. But, in school, Jordanian girls are crushing their male peers. The nation’s girls outperform its boys in just about every subject and at every age level. At the University of Jordan, the country’s largest university, women outnumber men by a ratio of two to one—and earn higher grades in math, engineering, computer-information systems, and a range of other subjects.
In fact, across the Arab world, women now earn more science degrees on a percentage basis than women in the United States. In Saudi Arabia alone, women earn half of all science degrees. And yet, most of those women are unlikely to put their degrees to paid use for very long.
It’s part of a pattern that is creeping across the globe: Wherever girls have access to school, they seem to eventually do better than boys. In 2015, teenage girls outperformed boys on a sophisticated reading test in 69 countries—every place in which the test was administered. In America, girls are more likely to take Advanced Placement tests, to graduate from high school, and to go to college, and women continue their education over a year longer than men. These are all glaring disparities in a world that values higher-order skills more than ever before. Natasha Ridge, the executive director of the Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi Foundation for Policy Research in the United Arab Emirates, has studied gender and education around the world. In the United Kingdom and the United States, Ridge believes she can draw a dotted line between the failure of boys to thrive in school and votes for Brexit and for Donald Trump. Disengaged boys grow up to become disillusioned men, Ridge says, left out of the progress they see around them.
“If you give girls a quality education, they will mostly run with it and do amazing things. It propels them,” says Ridge, one of the few researchers to have written extensively about the gender gap in the Arab world. But for boys, especially low-income boys, access to school has not had the same effect. “These boys struggle to find a connection between school and life,” she says, “and school is increasingly seen as a waste of time.”
So it’s crucial to understand the motivation to learn and how it works in the lives of real boys and girls. Because the slow slipping away of boys’ interest in education represents a profound failure of schools and society. And the implications are universally terrible. All over the world, poorly educated men are more likely to be unemployed, to have physical- and mental-health problems, to commit acts of violence against their families, and to go to prison. They are less likely to marry but quite likely to father children.
Undoubtedly, each country is unique, so it is dangerous to generalize. (In Lebanon, for example, boys still do better than girls in math, and in Yemen, girls are still less likely than boys to even be enrolled in school.) And the fact is, neither girls nor boys are doing especially well in school in the Middle East—success is relative. Girls in Jordan still do worse on international tests than girls in America. Still, by age 15, Jordanian girls perform an entire year ahead of boys in science and almost two years in reading, according to the 2015 PISA test. The education gap between boys and girls across the region is large and strikingly similar, even among nations with stark distinctions—in oil-rich, wealthy countries like Oman, where boys are virtually guaranteed some sort of government job when they grow up, and in poor ones like Jordan, where they are not.
Something seems to be happening (or not happening) that is not readily explained. “It’s becoming a global phenomenon,” Ridge says, “and it’s not going away.”
For one thing, boys’ schools are more violent places, concluded the study, which was funded by USAID. Over half of the boys interviewed said they’d experienced some kind of bullying in school over the previous year. Only 11 percent of girls said the same thing. Two-thirds of male teachers said they’d witnessed physical violence among students in the past year—compared with less than a quarter of female teachers.
Boys also reported worse relationships with their male teachers. Only 40 percent of male students interviewed said they believed their teachers cared about how well they did in school—compared with 74 percent of girls. These results are bolstered by another recent USAID-funded study, which has not been made public but was shared with The Atlantic by RTI International, which helped conduct the research: Teams of education experts observed different classrooms around the country and found that male teachers in all-boys schools were more likely to belittle or punish students for getting the wrong answer. And boys were much more likely than girls to complain about their male teachers’ tendencies to beat students and shout at them.
On average Jordan’s male teachers—who have mostly gone through the same educational system themselves—do worse on the national entry test for teaching, according to Ministry of Education data. This suggests in turn that boys might be encountering less-prepared teachers on average. Unsurprisingly, teaching is not considered a very prestigious job—particularly for Jordanian men. So fewer men aspire to do it. And men who do teach are also more likely to simply leave the country, recruited away by Gulf states that desperately need male teachers for their own boys’ schools. “Male teachers are hard to come by, and good male teachers are even harder,” says Haifa Dia Al-Attia, the CEO of the Queen Rania Foundation for Education and Development, an organization founded by Jordan’s queen that is heavily involved in reforming the country’s education system.
T]he education system for males, as currently set up, is much less conducive for learning,” the 2014 report stated before calling for a reinvention of the teaching profession to raise salaries, prestige, and professionalism in the hopes of recruiting better male teachers in particular.
Like most American educators, teachers in Jordan do not typically receive any special training to help them understand specific tactics for teaching only boys or girls.
The research project, conducted by Mohammed Eltahir Osman and his colleagues at Sultan Qaboos University, analyzed testing data for 27,000 boys and girls from across the country. The problem, Osman and his colleagues concluded, was not simply boys’ freedom or male teachers’ preparation. It was all that and more. Through surveys and other analysis, they identified a long list of factors that were interacting like a chemical equation, which is the unsexy secret about how education systems usually work. Not just teacher quality but students’ sense of safety, their study habits, and the subtleties of the boy and girl peer cultures all converge to create a healthy—or toxic—brew.
In every country, there is evidence that a healthier mix is possible. Jordan’s private schools, for example, seem to be more balanced. The gender gap narrows in private schools, which are attended by 20 to 30 percent of Jordan’s students. It’s not inevitable, in other words, that girls will do better in Jordan; it depends on the context.
Interestingly, the same pattern appears in Tunisia and Lebanon—two of the only countries in the region in which boys and girls are routinely educated together. In both places, coeducation is the norm—and the gender gap in math and science scores is small to nonexistent.
In Western countries, some studies suggest that boys—and girls—do better in single-sex environments, not worse. But everything depends on the execution, says Leonard Sax, a psychologist and the author of Boys Adrift. “Merely separating girls from boys accomplishes nothing good, and often leads to catastrophe,” says Sax, who has visited single-sex schools around the world. After South Carolina opened hundreds of single-sex public schools starting in 2008, for example, some teachers found that boys who had never gotten in trouble before were suddenly regulars at the principal’s office. “If you’re in a group of all boys, being disrespectful to the teacher may raise your status in the eyes of some boys,” Sax says. “Boys know that’s not true for girls.” Without training to help teachers manage a room full of boys (or girls), low-level problems can become full-fledged contagions.
But there is another, more amorphous challenge to students’ motivation—one that cannot be fixed by better relationships or by putting more female teachers in schools. “The boys look at achievers as not masculine,” Osman says. The boys’ notions of masculinity do not overlap with the goals and values of their schools. So, in that void, the boys develop other ambitions, shaped by their peers on the soccer field and in the streets. “The boys have their own society,” Osman says. “They are governed by their own rules and values.”
This is a universal problem, if ever there was one. All around the globe, notions of masculinity have not kept pace with the demands of a world that rewards creativity and critical thinking above physical strength. Even in the United States, a new PDK poll shows, parents have higher academic expectations for their daughters than their sons. “Boys don’t feel that school can necessarily help them reach manhood,” Michael Thompson, a psychologist and the co-author of Raising Cain, says. “Sometimes they experience school as an obstacle to becoming masculine; but girls rarely see school as a barrier to womanhood.”
“If boys believe that the route to masculinity, to a respected boyhood and manhood, is outside of the classroom,” Thompson says, “they are not going to do as well in school as girls.”
In the meantime, countries make awkward compromises. In order to avoid all-female cohorts of students, Sultan Qaboos University, Oman’s only public university, now has two sets of admission criteria: one lower bar for men and one higher bar for women. Each year, the Ministry of Education announces the quota, depending on the discipline and the applicant pool. In 2009, for example, the engineering department rejected 732 women who would have been accepted, based on their test scores, had they been men. Osman disagrees with this quota system. “It helps to solve a temporary problem, but it has an impact in the long term on students’ confidence and on equality,” he says. “They should have found another way to boost the abilities of boys.”
Schools could, for example, identify strong male teachers who have improved boys’ academic performances and amplify their voices. Principals could help teachers build trust with their male students and develop better strategies for managing misbehavior. In their report, Osman and his colleagues listed 30 such recommendations. To date, none have been implemented, he says, but he is hopeful that change is coming. For now, men may have a better chance of getting admitted to Sultan Qaboos University, but they represent nine out of every 10 students on academic probation.
If Oman’s quota system sounds unfair, it’s worth noting that some elite American universities discriminate against female applicants, too. Being a man may raise your chances of being admitted to many of the most selective liberal-arts colleges in the United States. But the real problem—that schools are failing far too many boys—is rarely discussed in U.S. education debates. Boys get attention haphazardly, if they fit into subcategories of race or learning disabilities, and then only rarely.
There is reason to think that putting more attention on the issue of boys’ education would help—just as it helped girls in the past. Last year, an elegant study by MIT economist David Autor and his colleagues showed that boys may be particularly harmed by bad schools and especially responsive to strong schools. Using Florida birth and school records, the researchers compared the effects of strong schools on siblings in the same families. The worse the school, they found, the bigger the gender gap in favor of girls. “School quality,” the study concluded, “is more consequential for boys than girls.”
Boys are not defective; schools are. The fact that boys are struggling around the world means that too many schools are designed with a bias for girls. Too many teachers prefer compliance over competition, quiet diligence over risk-taking, and on average that leads to schools that are more comfortable for girls than for boys in every time zone. But given the world they are inheriting, just as boys need to learn to focus, girls need to learn to take risks.
And neither can thrive in a world where the other is diminished.