When classes open today, many boys won’t be in school

Our latest report, timed for the opening of the school year, is a two-part investigation on why boys are dropping out of school. The series explains why more girls finish high school and end up in college. Boys have to work, as more families find it increasingly harder to scrape a living. Moreover, the boys tend to be diverted from school by all sorts of distractions, including computer gaming. Large classroom sizes and in general, the deteriorating quality of education is also adding to the male dropout rate, as these make it harder to keep the boys’ attention on schoolwork. Meanwhile, at home, parents are busier and are less able to supervise teenage children and encourage them to remain in school.

The result is that there are now more illiterate boys than girls. In addition, 23 percent more women are now in college, and 48 percent more women than men are enrolled in postgraduate programs. Women now account for 70 percent of overseas Filipino workers and are increasingly dominating local employment as well.

This gender imbalance has consequences on families and on society as a whole. This means that men will also be dropping out of the labor force, adding the strain on marriages and family harmony. Marriages break up because of the education and employment gap, resulting in rising numbers of female-headed households. Society, meanwhile, has to deal with the social consequences of large-scale male unemployment.

Boys are droppping out of school and tend to be diverted by all sorts of distractions, including computer gaming. [Photo by Jose Enrique Soriano]

“WHERE ARE the boys?”

Quezon City Schools Division supervisor Beth Meneses has been asking this question the past several years. On really bad days, she says, as many as one in five of the male students in the city’s high schools could be anywhere — the streets, the canteen, the mall, the computer gaming shop — but in the classroom.

Throughout the country, even in Muslim Mindanao where girls have traditionally been kept out of the classroom, public high school teachers have been worrying about the boys. When classes open today and teachers in jampacked classrooms survey a sea of mostly female faces, they will again be wondering where the boys are.

Some teachers have personally hunted down the wayward teenagers, or at least sent the female students to chase after them. If the boys aren’t brought back immediately to the classroom, the teachers say, the school system would lose a number of them for good.

Boys have long been more likely to drop out of school than girls in either the grade- or high school level. But as more families require more hands to generate income, parents and teachers get busier, and teenage distractions multiply, the ratio of males to females exiting prematurely from high school has worsened.

There were three male dropouts for every two female dropouts in high school eight years ago. There are now two for every one.

Boys are also leaving school earlier. Of the 211,171 male dropouts in schoolyear 2003-2004, 43 percent were freshmen or 13- to 14-year-olds. There are so many boys dropping out that only 57 of every 100 boys who entered first year end up with a high school diploma, compared to 71 girls.

Indicators in Public Secondary Education, Schoolyear 2002-2003

Gross Enrolment Ratio (%) 65.66 62.96 68.41
Net Enrolment Ratio (%) 45.56 41.76 49.44
Cohort Survival Rate (%) 63.88 56.71 71.22
Years Input per Graduate 5.66 6.24 5.19
Graduation Rate (%) 90.62 88.41 92.58
Promotion Rate (%) 83.82 78.49 88.97
Repetition Rate (%) 2.81 4.35 1.32
Failure Rate (%) 9.6 12.59 6.72
Dropout Rate (%) 6.58 8.92 4.31

SOURCE: Department of Education

The trend has altered the landscape of high schools, especially public ones, which account for 80 percent of student enrolment. Across the country, girls now outnumber boys in secondary education. While the excess of high school girls stands at seven percent on average, the gender imbalance is more pronounced in some parts of the country, where females outnumber the males by as much as 30 percent.

Says Eusebio San Diego, Quezon City’s values education supervisor: “We keep talking about discrimination against women, but it’s the boys we’ve forgotten.”

There are now far more illiterate boys than girls. As a result, more men are jobless and subsequently suffer from low self-esteem. As it is, three out of five unemployed Filipino are now male while nearly 70 percent of today’s overseas Filipino workers are female.

Ironically, one of the more frequently cited reasons why boys have gone missing from school is that they have to work. Educators say the deepening poverty in the country is forcing more schoolchildren — usually the boys — to contribute to the family coffers.

About 2.5 million or two-thirds of the four million working children are male, mostly from the rural areas and households with about six members, according to a 2001 survey on children by the National Statistics Office (NSO).

National Achievement Test – Fourth Year, Schoolyear 2003-2004

English 44.08 50
Science 33.52 35.16
Mathematics 31.11 32.36
Total Test 36.24 39.17

SOURCE: Department of Education

San Diego says that poor families tend to make the boys work because they are considered to be more physically able than girls. In broken homes, mothers also expect the boys to take on the father’s role. “They are depended on to help support the family,” he says.

Because boys generally perform poorer in school, it also seems easier for parents to make them quit and get a job. “Parents would tell kids, ‘If you’re not doing well in school, drop out and work,'” says Education Undersecretary Juan Miguel Luz.

Most rural boys help farm and fish, says Rene Romero, presidential assistant on special projects and concerns at the Philippine Normal University (PNU). They also land temporary jobs in street diggings or drainage clearings. In some places, says Romero, young boys are employed in “light” work, such as collecting jueteng bets.

The NSO survey found that working boys who are still in school tend to have difficulty catching up with the lessons. Parents, in turn, find that work has affected their children’s school performance, pointing to low grades and declining interest in learning.

More than a third of the country’s four million child workers had stopped or dropped out of school. Male dropouts outnumbered the females with a ratio of 2:1, citing loss of interest in schooling as the top reason. Others dropped out because their families could not afford their education.

On the whole, Luz says, loss of interest is the chief reason that boys — whether working or not — give up on school. “Boys tend to do poorly than girls,” he says. “As they become frustrated, they tend to drop out.”

Overall, boys indeed score lower than girls in the National Achievement Test, which checks a child’s learning in English, science and math. The biggest difference lies in English, where the boys’ scores are five to six percentage points lower than girls’.

More boys (4.35 percent) than girls (1.32 percent) also have to repeat a year level. It also takes boys longer to finish high school: 6.24 years compared to the girls’ 5.19 years.

These do not mean the boys are mentally inferior, emphasizes Gertrudes Macusi, assistant to the principal of Ramon Magsaysay High School in Quezon City. They are simply less academically prepared for various reasons, including their inattentiveness in class.

PNU’s Romero says that girls value education more than boys do because they no longer see themselves merely staying at home when they grow up; they expect to have careers. Boys tend to assume they would be able to work even without finishing school. Says Romero: “If you let a girl study, she’s more likely to finish and find a job here or overseas. You don’t have to force them. But with boys, the parents have to force them to finish their schooling.”

Girls, he adds, have good study habits compared to boys who have less patience and less endurance for studying, especially in reading and language subjects. Meneses, who taught English for more than two decades before becoming supervisor last year, agrees. “Boys don’t like reading at all,” she says. “They think reading is girl stuff.”

San Francisco High School guidance counselor Philip Austria also observes, “We find that the problematic boys were lazy since elementary. Their study habits weren’t formed. They’re in second year, but they can’t read and write English. They can’t understand the lessons. Nababagot sila, naaburido sila (They get annoyed, they get frustrated).”

When that happens, some boys just give up. Jonathan Boadilla of Agoo, La Union was 15 when he enrolled at the town’s President Elpidio Quirino National High School five years ago. When the second semester opened, he walked up to his teacher and returned all his books. He was quitting, he declared, because “school was hard.”

Boadilla’s mother persuaded him to return the following year, but he still passed freshman year with difficulty. Sophomore year turned out to be even harder for him. When the term ended, Boadilla had flunked his math and was asked by the school to enroll in summer class so he could proceed to junior year. He never did.

But grades were not Boadilla’s only problems. His mother later found out that he usually cut classes, and instead drank and smoked with his barkada at a sari-sari store near the school. The principal’s office kept sending his mother letters about his absences, but one in particular made Beth Boadilla decide to just let her son drop out. “He was caught drinking and smoking in school,” she says. “It was embarrassing.” In the months that followed, Jonathan’s friends also dropped out.

San Diego is not surprised. He points out that adolescent boys are more adventurous, rebellious and daring than adolescent girls, and peer influence is strongest at this stage of development. “Boys are easily convinced (to do stuff) by their friends,” he says.

These days the distractions available to the boys come in many forms, among them billiards, the malls and basketball. But educators in urban areas today brand network gaming as among their top foes. Meneses says most boys who miss class hang out in computer shops. “Computer gaming is like a vice,” she says. “It’s like gambling. You get hooked on computer games. Their allowance for school they use to buy load. I’ve had male students who lose interest in school because of gaming and drop out. When their teacher scolds them, they stop going to class.”

She recalls one student’s mother who went around computer shops looking for her son who had gotten hooked on network gaming. The determined mother would march the boy back to school, making sure he finished high school. But the consequence of missing too many classes had set in. The boy was not academically prepared for college or technical school despite having obtained a scholarship from a foreign foundation. Now jobless, he hangs around at the street corner where his mother sells fried bananas and cold drinks.

The problem has also been observed outside Manila. Delia Rivera, a teacher in La Union, recalls that truant boys used to be out playing in the fields or swimming in the river, and would even attend class with wet pants. “Come the 1990s and now, boys are cutting classes and you find them in computer shops,” she says.

If not there, they hang out elsewhere. Says Lui Libatique, a master teacher at the Quirino National High School in La Union: “Here, the boys are fond of going out at night, sit under the trees to just talk. They wake up late in the morning and they miss class.”

There are, of course, some extreme reasons why boys have gone missing in classes. A World Bank report says many more boys in the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao drop out of school in their early teens, and do so about two years earlier than among boys in other parts of the country.

The pattern, the report says, “could be due to the continual armed conflict in the region, its disruptive effects on homes and schools, and its adverse impact on the economy. These consequences appear to have had a more disruptive effect on teenage boys than on girls of the same age. At the same time, early male dropout itself feeds the supply of boys who take up arms.”

Still, educators themselves say that sometimes the conditions in the schools, teachers’ attitudes, as well as the boys’ families are crucial factors in just how long male students would keep going to class.

“Many parents,” says Macusi, “are simply not paying enough attention to their children.” She says several parents at her school, Ramon Magsaysay, a model institution in the Quezon City educational system, are market vendors and drivers who have to leave home very early and are unaware if their children ever make it to school later in the day. Unfortunately, some of the children head straight for the video and computer shops at Nepa Q Mart, a pedestrian bridge away from the school, rather than to class.

“When the child comes home, his mother is not yet there. The child really has no one to turn to but his friends, his barkada,” Macusi says. Still, she says, the reality is that many parents do have to work long hours and cannot be there for their children all the time. “They’re too busy. We have to accept that,” she says.

Educators say the absence of one parent can have a big effect on a child’s — especially a boy’s — education. But they differ on which absentee parent has more impact on a boy’s drive to go to school.

San Diego says, “When the father is missing, the boy has no one to be afraid of. Boys are scared of their fathers more than their mothers.” Yet Romero argues, “When it is the mother who isn’t there, it’s more likely you won’t go to school. The nanay takes care of the baon. The mother would supervise about homework. She is the extension of the school. The father rarely asks about homework or offers a child to help him or her do it.”

Educators, though, agree the constant presence and supervision of both parents would minimize juvenile delinquency, which leads partly to the dropout problem. While some are expelled for serious misdemeanors, those who are suspended use that as a reason not to go back to school. Guidance counselor Austria says boys who get into trouble at the San Francisco High School tend to come from broken, large-size families. “They’re into marijuana and gambling,” he says. “Some cases involve carrying deadly weapons.”

Yet even when the boys show up in school relatively ready to learn, it still takes some doing to hold their attention, especially in big, crowded schools. Public high schools have been growing at an annual five percent as hard times force more students to transfer out of private schools and into public institutions.

At the San Francisco High School alone, a standard classroom for 40 has been divided into two classes, each holding 50 to 70 students per section. “We’re packed like sardines,” says Meneses. She has noticed that the boys get easily irritated and are hot-tempered because they can barely move.

Ballooning school populations have also made monitoring students much harder. In some Quezon City high schools, a teacher handling five to six sections could have as many as 450 students. As a result, the teachers don’t know their students well, and can barely tell one from the other.

The sectioning system employed in most schools is no help as well. Quezon City Schools Division journalism supervisor Ligaya Regis says that it only leaves the poor performers among the students even less inspired to improve. “The best teachers are in Sections 1, 2 or 3,” she says. “The also-rans are in 29 to 30.”

But sometimes, the teachers are themselves the problem. “We need to also discipline teachers,” says Austria. “Some teachers don’t show up because they’re demoralized over low pay, lack of support to their profession, the low evaluation they are getting.” Once a teacher is absent, the boys tend to slip out of class and don’t return to school for the day, especially if the teacher who is absent happens to be assigned to the first subject of the day.

Austria also laments that some teachers don’t mind when some of their students are missing. He observes, “Some teachers even prefer children to be absent. That means less kids whom they have to teach.” — with additional reporting by Avigail Olarte