Editorial: Is more all-boy schools the solution?
While we acknowledge the breadth of sociological experience that University of the West Indies lecturer and anthropologist Dr Herbert Gayle brings to his analysis of Jamaica's broken education sector, Silburn Clarke offers a more nuanced and expansive perspective on what is needed to arrest the rot.
Dr Gayle recommended, at a recent Editors' Forum hosted by this newspaper, the establishment of more elite single-sex schools for boys to narrow the chasm of academic achievement in comparison to girls. He believes that the sheer number of all-girls schools is the key factor behind the trailing performance of boys generally.
That view, however, is highly optimistic and, perhaps, simplistic.
By our count, all-girls schools nearly double the number of institutions that cater exclusively to boys. But this newspaper believes - and we suspect that the majority of Jamaicans would share our view - that the academic quality of the elite girls' schools, among them Immaculate, Mt Alvernia, Montego Bay, and St Andrew, boasts, generally, superior returns in external examinations than the seven all-boy schools - Calabar, St George's, Munro, Cornwall, Wolmer's, Jamaica College and Kingston College. Calabar, in particular, has not replicated, on test papers, its accomplishments in sport. Merely adding to the complement of boys' schools, without a revolution in pedagogy and a paradigm shift in management, would be an exercise in illogic.
Which is why we are more likely to side with Mr Clarke, deputy chairman of the Labour Market Reform Commission, in his argument that at the crux of the disparity is quality - nothing else.
"The critical secondary education problem is not a gender problem," he told this newspaper. "The issue has to do with what is being delivered in the five-year period by the institutions."
And that explains why this country runs an education system that operates like a conveyor belt of mediocrity, churning out tens of thousands of high-school graduates who either fail to pass sufficient subjects to matriculate to university or whose fields of study make them misfits for the market.
It is not the maleness or femaleness of individual students, or school populations, that make them more prone to failure or success, but the level of organisation, the culture of accountability and excellence, and the managerial competence of administrations that effectively shape their future. There are models of high performance in co-ed schools that debunk convenient myths.
REFASHION THEIR METHODOLOGY
What should be pursued, which is where we believe Dr Gayle really wanted to go with his analysis, is that school administrators and faculty ought to refashion their methodology in tutoring boys if they intend to change outcomes. A one-size-fits-all approach is a recipe for the disaster which is already upon us. Research has shown that girls, in some instances, learn differently from boys, and that teachers should broaden the spectrum of instruction to be more inclusive. This may even involve some classes occasionally being segregated on the basis of gender for the imparting of difficult-to-absorb concepts.
Such modifications, however, would not justify Dr Gayle's proposal of mass construction of boys' schools across Jamaica.
What schools also need to do is rethink the whole concept of an educated and skilled student. He or she is not only a lawyer, doctor or accountant, but also your mechanic, plumber, carpenter, and landscaper.
For instance, too many students and their parents view vocational subjects as the fallback for underachievers who are not academically inclined. How wrong! That misjudgement has caused the mushrooming of a tradesman class, too many of whom cannot even measure. An education revolution would challenge the misaligned and overloaded structures of Jamaican society.