Academic journal article Thymos

Boys in Education in Europe: Theoretical Reflections and the Case of Early School Leaving

Academic journal article Thymos

Boys in Education in Europe: Theoretical Reflections and the Case of Early School Leaving

Article excerpt

The paper discusses the phenomenon of the "boy crisis" in education by following trajectories which seek to describe the situation of boys at school in different countries across Europe in its complexity. The current study of the Role of Men in Gender Equality (Scambor, Wojnicka & Bergmann, eds., 2012) offers an international comparison of the situation of boys and outlines major trends related to gender disparities in education across Europe. An in-depth analysis of male early school leavers leads to a deeper understanding of boys and men as heterogeneous social groups. Relations between so called "costs" and "privileges" in education show considerable varieties due to differences between boys, with educational careers being strongly influenced by social class, "race," and ethnicities as well as migration backgrounds.

Keywords: boy crisis, gender equality, early school leaving, diversity

Gender equality issues in education have changed over the past decades and have become more complex as questions of gender inequality and power have been opened up. From the 1970s onwards, gender equality in education has predominantly been framed with a focus on women: improving the achievements of girls was supposed to automatically reduce existing power imbalances in favour of boys (see Weiner, 2010).

However, because of the increased emphasis on examination achievement in recent years and the narrowing of the gender gap in favour of female students, much interest in gender has reverted to concern about the perceived "underachievement of males" (OECD, 2001, p. 122). Thus in recent years and in many countries, gender issues in education have come to be equated with boys' relative underperformance in examinations, and a so-called crisis of masculinity (Weiner, 2010, p. 31).

However we interpret these shifts in concern, one cannot take them to mean that there aren't continuing issues for girls in their experience in schooling, including such issues as sexual violence and cyber-bullying, and they do not mean that all boys fail in education. In fact, discourses about "failing boys" can mask that some groups of boys still do very well, while others drop out of the education system. On the individual level, leaving the education system early reduces opportunities to participate in society (socially and economically) and increases the risk of social exclusion, with all the connected risks for wellbeing, health, and life quality. Education is a vital part of a gender equality strategy and it has to engage with boys and men especially at a time of financial crisis when social cohesion is under threat.

On a structural level, the European Commission has made attempts to promote gender equality in education and has proposed measurable targets for Europe 2020, two of which acknowledge the vital role of education and gender equality targets and thus of engaging men and masculinities:

A target on educational attainment which tackles the problem of early school leavers by reducing the drop out rate to 10% from the current 15%, whilst increasing the share of the population aged 30-34 having completed tertiary education from 31% to at least 40% in 2020. (European Commission, 2010, p. H)

Early school leaving is described as a "serious obstacle" (European Commission, 2011, p. 1) and it is well known, that "Europe cannot afford that so many young people who have the potential to contribute to our societies and our economies are left behind" (European Commission, 2011, p. 1).

Within the European Study on the Role of Men in Gender Equality,1 which undertook systematic research of the EU-27 member states plus the associated EFTA states, the importance of education in the context of increasing men's contribution to gender equality was addressed among other relevant topics, related to men and gender equality. The results show how the situation varies in different European countries and across different cultural histories and traditions. …

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