Gender Parity for Boys in Ruhiira, Uganda

By Lindsee Gregory, MA Candidate International Educational Development, Teachers College, Columbia University

When you think of gender and education, what usually comes to mind? Most people probably think about girls, specifically those girls who lack access due to cultural expectations, high school fees, or dangerous treks to school. But what most people aren’t considering is that gender and education encompasses not only girls who may be marginalized in communities, but also boys who drop out of school due to economic constraints, lack of parental care, and being years older than their classmates. Essentially, when we have this conversation about gender, we can’t afford to forget about the boys.

Students in an English class at Ngoma Primary School

Students in an English class at Ngoma Primary School

In Ruhiira, Uganda, teachers and Millennium Villages Project staff have noticed since around 2009 that boys actually drop out of primary schools at much higher rates than girls. If you consider enrolment particularly in the highest levels offered at the schools, most classes in the MV1 cluster area are overwhelmingly dominated by female students. But where are the boys? Why did they drop out?

According to Lawrence Ssenkubuge, education coordinator at MVP in Uganda, the male drop out rate increased in the past five years partly as an unintended consequence of an improved economy; with more work opportunities available in communities with better markets and roads, more boys sought to make money rather than continue with their studies. Adolescent boys, particularly those who were already not on track to complete their primary school education at an appropriate age, remain the most vulnerable to dropping out of school. According to the teachers and parents, the students who drop out usually leave school around 14 or 15 years old.

Boys playing soccer during a break at Omwicwamba Primary School

Boys playing soccer during a break at Omwicwamba Primary School

With overage boys as a particularly marginalized group within education in Ruhiira, what can and should be done on a community level? What programmatic shifts should MVP look into as it seeks to address the needs of these boys? MVP staff and local leaders have already begun this process by simply addressing the problem within the communities at local meetings and through radio programs. They are pressing local leadership to abide by community by-laws that are in place to prevent child labor and to enforce school attendance for all school-age children. Community education workers have focused on particular outreach of families with out-of-school children to convince parents and children of the value of education. CEWs have reported success with their efforts, as they see some students return to school.

While this issue is challenging particularly because boys sometimes lack the resources from NGOs that have been made available to girls as the more traditionally and well-researched marginalized group, MVP has remained committed to educating all students in its cluster area. By emphasizing community outreach and sensitization, Ruhiira teachers, parents, and MVP staff can remain hopeful that the number of out-of-school children will be reduced and that local businesses will stop the illegal employment of school-aged boys.

Lindsee Gregory is a Masters student in the International Educational Development program at Teachers College, Columbia University. In 2014, she spent the summer working with the education sector of Millennium Villages Project in Ruhiira, Uganda. 

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