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Why do male students underachieve in tertiary education? A St. Lucian case study

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posted on 26.06.2017, 10:46 authored by Maria Lashley
The purpose of this study was to explore underachievement of male students at a tertiary institution in St. Lucia, and to understand the contributory factors giving rise to underachievement from the perspectives of the male students themselves. Male educational underachievement manifests itself in various forms, from educational disengagement, exclusion, truancy, and even resistance to education. Moreover, educationally underachieving students are more likely to be faced with limited opportunities to participate in both the job market and in academic advancements. While academic underachievement is a perennial problem that is experienced at the primary, and secondary levels of education, male academic underachievement is gaining momentum in tertiary levels of education. At this level, male students enter the institutions with above average grades, yet record high underachievement levels and higher dropout rates compared to female students. This research is informed by Bourdieu’s social and cultural capital concept (Bourdieu, 1986) which provides the theoretical framework for the research and considers academic underachievement to happen as a result of class inequalities within the education system. Using Bourdieu’s concept of habitus, field and capital, this research attempts to understand the factors contributing to male academic underachievement in tertiary education and addresses a gap in the literature using this theoretical approach. A case study method of inquiry, using individual and focus group interviews allowed for multiple facets of male academic underachievement to be revealed and understood. Through the data analysis, the themes that emerged illustrated how underachieving male students conceptualize themselves as learners, and also revealed the factors that contributed to the poor academic outcomes of these students. The research drew on the experiences of 30 male students and 8 teachers and through their voices, this research was able to highlight some factors, other than cognitive factors, which caused male students to academically underachieve at the tertiary level of learning. The principal findings from this research are that young males in tertiary education are predestined to underachieve as a result of their limited composition of social, cultural and economic capital. Underachieving male students’ lack of investment in social capital facilitates their academic failure and limits their upward mobility. Moreover, the lack of financial information, access to financial support, institutional support, and teacher practices, lower student engagement and participation in tertiary education. Underachieving male students are more likely to be extrinsically motivated but are, in the absence of social networks, positively supported by their peers.



Rudloff, Daniela

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Centre for Labour Market Studies

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University of Leicester

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