Marcia Forbes: Jamaica’s Inner-City Boys Defy Robert Mugabe

By Marcia Forbes, PhD
CJ Contributor

After Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe’s recent piercing comments about Jamaican males, it was heartening to analyze responses from 57 inner-city residents who attend non-traditional high schools on the island. They gave their opinions about what the Internet means to them and did this in writing in response to an open-ended survey question — “What does the Internet mean to you?”

Similar to the girls who responded to this question and who I wrote about last week, none of the boys used social media language. Yes, there were grammatical errors, but no BTW (by the way) or similar types of abbreviations. I was impressed with these boys’ eloquence and the fact that they were interested enough to write such lengthy responses. These were boys from some of Jamaica’s least recognized schools.

Exploring not Cyber-Slacking

Their responses demonstrated that these boys were not mere idlers as Mugabe’s comments may have led me to expect. To a Teacher or other adult looking on as boys engage with the Internet, the cyber slacker label may be tempting. I say this because based on their responses, boys use the Internet far less for school work than girls. 54 percent of boys, compared to 67 percent of girls, specifically mentioned school work in their responses.

Deeper analysis revealed that these inner-city Jamaican boys were using the Internet in a more self-directed, unstructured, exploratory manner than their female counterparts. Boys were going online to inform and generally educate themselves. Almost two-thirds of them (65 percent) gave responses which indicated this, compared to 55 percent of girls.

The big surprise for me was that far fewer boys and girls mentioned using the Internet to entertain themselves than I had anticipated. A comparatively low 45 percent of girls and 46 percent of boys did so. Among the five categories created out of data interrogation and coding, Internet use relating to entertainment ranked fourth for boys as well as for girls.

Note that responses were carved up into categories and that a single response could be dissected into parts with different parts applied to different categories. At no time though was one part applied to more than a single category. The principle of mutual exclusivity is vigorously upheld in order to prevent double-counting. Here is what the five categories look like. Like me you are likely to be surprised at the overall results


The Internet as Refuge

Another surprise was the extent to which girls outstripped boys in use of the Internet as a source of refuge. They were more than two times more likely than boys to express emotional ties with the net. Some of their comments were highlighted in my last article. No doubt as the mobile net takes root more reliance on it for some kind of emotional support is likely.

No Technophobes

The big take-away from my data analysis is that Jamaican youths are not technophobes. They are using the Internet, even when access is diminished and largely only available at school.

From the total of 108 inner-city respondents, 101 of them (94 percent) were entirely positive about the Internet and saw it as a social good. Here are a few of their comments complete with grammatical errors.

“The internet means a great deal to me. I spend a lot of my free time and some of my study time as I use it for multi purposes… I use it to interact with my school mates and also to study. For the small time that I have access to the internet I think I made up for lost time. Meaning I have to put it into use from the very first moment I got it.” (Female)

“The internet means the world to me because it build up my vocabulary and let me get more information about things in society and mostly the internet help me to do my projects and that let me know more thing and the internet help me to know how to French kiss so the internet is the best thing to ever happen to me.” (Female)

“The internet is a technology which was established to make the world a better place and by doing that the internet save time, make work more easier and also educate the people of the world. The Internet to me serves as the backbone in today’s society where as we the young generations can have the use of the internet to make our difficults be more easy therefore the internet to me serves a great purpose in my everyday life as I grow.” (Male)

“Body of information. World just deh inna you palm you know. [The world is just in your palm, you see]. Can search for anything you want.”

This last comment really says it all in terms of how young people see the Internet, in particular the mobile net. They’ve got the whole world in their hands.

Dr Marcia Forbes, a Caribbean Journal contributor, is a media specialist, the co-owner of multimedia production company Phase 3 Productions Ltd and former Permanent Secretary in Jamaica’s Ministry of Mining and Telecommunications and later the Ministry of Energy and Mining. She is the author of Music, Media & Adolescent Sexuality in Jamaica and the recently-released Streaming: Social Media, Mobile Lifestyles.

Follow Dr Marcia Forbes on Twitter: @marciaforbes