Friday, 21 October 2016

Barbershop Networking To Improve Literacy in Boys

“We read to know we’re not alone”- William Nicholson
Girls continue to outperform boys at all levels of Jamaica’s education system. Regrettably, a significant percentage of boys begin school struggling to speak in full sentences due to their limited vocabulary. The process of reading over the years has been stigmatized as a ‘sissy’ activity in which ‘real’ men are pressured to avoid. Disturbingly, boys who display school smarts are often ridicule as effeminate by peers and even adults in areas where academic excellence by males is typically devalued. According to data from the United Nations (UN) it is estimated that worldwide 103 million children lack the skills to be literate. The news emerging from the UN is mixed as in an effort to meet their Sustainable Development Goals #4 (SDG) of ensuring inclusive and quality education and promoting lifelong learning the UN is reporting  that basic literacy skills have improved greatly, however, bolder strategies are required in achieving 100 per cent literacy as 57 million children remain out of school. It bear thought that without the ability to read, comprehend and interpret our students will have a difficulty competing for those better paying jobs which are integrated into the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) programme. It is very clear that we are in the midst of a boy crisis and as such we need to find creative measures to promote and encourage our boys to read more. An expansion of the stakeholders for improving literacy must be explored at this time. An additional stakeholder which could be added to the various intervention methods which currently exit is our nation’s barbershops. How would such a project be implementing one may ask? Such an ambitious plan would require a civil society partnership involving the churches, service clubs, such as, Rotary International and the Kiwanis Clubs and the owners/managers of barbershops. Over the years there has been a proliferation of barbershops all across the island. It has become rather common to see boys at barbershops on a Saturday or Sunday waiting for that special haircut. It is quite standard to wait at least 30-45 minutes at any such establishment. Imagine just for a moment how many hours per year boys spend at the barbershop? This waiting period could be used to promote reading among boys. Unfortunately, it very uncommon to see books at barbershops and this needs to be revisited by forging a partnership between non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) and service clubs to donate books. Parents could also be encouraged to donate old books to their favourite barbershop to assist in this project. Boys have varied interests in reading material; however, many boys are interesting in comics as well as sports related books and magazines. We need to stimulate within boys a passion for reading and this must be inculcated at an early age to capture the creativity of our boys. A barbershop reading project is not a novel idea. In Michigan barbershops have gone a step further by giving discounts to boys who read aloud to their barbers while they are getting their hair styled. In addition to improving literary skills among boys, books have the ability to build the self-esteem of the reader which is lacking in many boys as they continue to bleach their skin. Such a barbershop reading project would assist immensely in character building of our boys into men, as well as assist in reclaiming a brand of masculinity which places a high premium on education. We need to finds ways of getting our boys to read again. Reading is fun. This message of repackaging reading as fun must be spread across the length and breadth of the society and especially among boys to get them to turn the pages of books. Reading is a macho activity. In the words of Kofi Annan, “acquiring literacy is an empowering process, enabling millions to enjoy access to knowledge and information which broadens horizons, increases opportunities and creates alternatives for building a better life”. 
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