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Why Arab schoolchildren are beaten by girls


MUHAMAD ACKNOWLEDGES he was not a diligent student. The young Emirati says he missed school when he showed up at all. When he was 17, desperate teachers arranged for him one day a week in classes designed only for disgruntled men. They aimed to raise ambitions and capture it with more practical types of school work. Muhammad says he is 20 years old and he finished his military service and this latest intervention saved him from falling. A career as an army officer looks possible. Even doctor training. Probably.

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Muhammad is a graduate of Hands-on-Learning, a modest project that aims to reduce dropout rates in Ras al-Khaimah, one of the seven states that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This is just one local attempt to solve a large-scale regional problem. All over the Arab world, girls attend school less often than boys. But in the classroom, girls are far superior to their male peers – to an extent unmatched anywhere else in the world. The staggeringly poor school grades of boys are serious damage to the Arab economy, as is the constant oppression of women. Bad schools for boys turn out to be insecure young people who are more likely to feel that their livelihoods depend on more educated women not working.

Young men and women of the region perform poorly in international competitions. This makes the failures of the Arab boys even more serious. The World Bank says two-thirds of ten-year-old boys in the Middle East and North Africa cannot read a simple story, compared to more than half of girls (see chart). According to international tests of 12-year-olds in 40 countries in 2019, eight Arab school systems have the world’s largest gender gaps in science: all boys get the worst scores. Arab girls are almost always superior to boys in high-profile 15-year-old tests conducted every three years. OECD, a club of predominantly rich countries. In Jordan, Qatar and the UAE the break in 2015 was equivalent because the girls had an extra year of study in science and two extra years in reading.

Part of the problem is separate learning. Same-sex schools are common in Arab countries, especially in the Persian Gulf countries, where the failures of boys compared to girls are most serious. Schools for boys tend to be tougher than for girls, in part because hiring male teachers is difficult. While work in schools for girls can easily attract ten applicants, a school for boys can get three or four, says an official in Saudi Arabia. An academic study of six men who studied to be teachers UAE found that four did not particularly want to work in the school and only three liked to work with children. Men in the Gulf countries can usually earn more money and status by working in the army or police. Thus, many schools rely on immigrant teachers from poor Arab neighbors who are struggling to win the respect of local students.

Bullying also lowers school grades and increases dropout rates. The survey is analyzed UNESCO found that more than 40% of adolescents in the Middle East and North Africa are bullied at least once a month, compared to 32% in North America and 25% in Europe. Boys in the region are more likely to be bullied than girls, while worldwide boys and girls are bullied about equally. Moreover, bullying was much more often associated with violence. About 60% of boys also report fighting at school.

Many boys don’t see the point in hard work, says Natasha Ridge of the Al Qasimi Foundation, a think tank in the Emirates. The hidden economy does not reward those who aspire. In the richest countries, young people can count on a share of oil money, no matter how hard they fall. Elsewhere, boys with poor scores can still count on jobs in bloated public services: a quarter of Egypt’s jobs are in the public sector; in Saudi Arabia in 2014, the share was more than twice as high. For girls, the benefits of stating are much more obvious. Education is one of the few ways to gain independence from husbands and parents.

Parents also contribute to this imbalance. Muhammad of Ras al-Khaimah said he often stayed outside, playing with friends on school evenings, while his sisters, whose parents kept him at home, spent more time studying. Arab parents are less likely than those elsewhere to say they “read” to their children “often” and read less with their sons than with their daughters, even though studies show that boys ’literacy tends to suffer more than girls’s. if parents don’t do it push them to books.

Theoretically, preschools can help smooth out these differences. But less than a third of children in the Middle East and North Africa attend one, which is about half the world average. Prejudice complicates matters. “Boys are smarter than girls, but they can’t adapt,” said Angie, an Egyptian teacher and mother from Alexandria.

Women are still largely deprived of the workforce, despite the best school grades. In the Middle East and North Africa, only about a fifth of women have a job. Low-educated men are in no hurry to change that. Studies outside the region confirm that less educated men are more likely to have sexist views, and that men who have not completed high school are more likely to abuse their wives or partners.

Reforms in some countries may raise standards and benefit the boys left behind. More and more Arab countries are choosing to take part in major international trials that have helped make mining schooling in the region so easy. In 2019, the Saudi government allowed women to teach boys in the first three grades of public elementary schools, but in same-sex classes. Today, 45% of these boys have female teachers. In 2018 UAE the creation of mixed classes in public primary schools began. It is also well on its way to making preschool education universal.

However, very few countries have come up with policies or projects such as Hands-on-Learning that are clearly aimed at helping boys bridge the gap. More needs to be done for girls to ensure that they go to school: since 2012, progress towards equal coverage has stopped. But tackling the boy’s problem is unfashionable, Ms. Ridge says. Reform-minded Arab leaders prefer to talk about their efforts, albeit meager, to improve the lives of women. They fear that higher spending on boys will make governments look like dinosaurs, even if data shows that boys are in dire need.

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