The climate-change catastrophe should have convinced policymakers by now that they ignore science at their peril. Another arena in which science has been disregarded is educational policy, which has resulted in the "chasm of academic achievement" between boys and girls in Jamaican high schools.
Although the number of boys and girls in Jamaica is roughly equal, in 2005 (the latest data I can find), 48,992 boys and 81,111 girls sat CSEC subjects, and the girls outperformed the boys in all arts subjects and all science subjects, except mathematics. More than twice the number of females (67 per cent) are enrolled in UWI than males (33 per cent), and 59 per cent of those enrolled in post-secondary non-tertiary education are women. There is gender injustice here.
In both primary and private preparatory schools, girls outperform boys in the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) - in all subject areas and across all regions. Why is this? Is it because boys learn differently than girls, and Jamaica's school system is hopelessly feminised, putting boys at a disadvantage? Maybe. There is scientific research which supports this view, and I'm sure those in charge of pedagogical methodology in Jamaican schools will eventually address this.
But it seems to me that the analysis of male educational underperformance ignores major scientific findings that have been known for some decades, and which have been reinforced/confirmed by recent research.
GIRLS DEVELOP FASTER
For more than 20 years, I have been pointing out in this column what all teachers learn in Educational Psychology 101: that, conceptually, girls develop far earlier than boys. Let me quote from my column of April 16, 2010 titled 'Gender justice': "At the age of 11 when the Grade Six Achievement Test (GSAT) is taken, girls are more conceptually mature than boys, and will always be expected to perform better. This is not because of the marginalisation of the Jamaican male or anything like that; this is a natural phenomenon ... . What DOES marginalise Jamaican males at high school is when you put 12- and 13-year-old boys in the same class with 12- and 13-year-old girls. At that age, the girls will run academic circles around the boys and give them feelings of inferiority; and it is likely that - early on - the boys will develop a negative image of themselves and aggressive feelings towards women.
Boys' academic performances will fall and disciplinary problems will begin to emerge. Their female classmates will do well at CXC and go on to university; after high school, many of the boys will join the walk-street, kick-stone posse, or will eventually need rehabilitation at Tower Street or South Camp Road. We are seeing the negative effects already. Our universities have 80 per cent female enrolment, and many educated women just can't find suitable partners."
The neurological mechanism behind what psychologists have known for decades is now coming to light. A scientific study published in the medical journal Cerebral Cortex on December 19, 2013 reports that females generally mature faster during childhood and adolescence in certain cognitive and emotional areas than males, because girls tend to optimise brain connections earlier than boys.
Dr Marcus Kaiser of Newcastle University in the UK reported: "Previous studies have shown that the brain does a lot of reorganising during puberty. There is greater activity during this time. ... These changes were starting much earlier in girls in comparison with boys. Around 10 to 12, you start to see a lot of activity in the brains of girls as this pruning takes place, but it was between 15 to 20 for boys."
It is, therefore, natural at age 11 for girls to do better than boys at the GSAT, and at age 16 at CSEC. Knowingly or unknowingly, our educational system is designed to favour girls.
The only single-sex high schools in Jamaica (all have high-performing boys) are owned and operated by churches and trusts. All government high schools are co-educational, where boys are put at a scientifically verifiable disadvantage. It is true to say that the marginalisation of the Jamaican male happens by design.
The Trinidad Express of March 26, 2010 had a story titled 'Minister: Shift to same-sex schools to target males'. The article begins: "Education Minister Esther Le Gendre said yesterday the underperformance of male students in this country was the main reason for a push to convert some 20 secondary schools to same-sex schools."
Even before this, Jamaica was behind Trinidad in educational achievement. Trinidad's strategic action is putting Jamaica even further behind our CARICOM partners.
Jamaica lacks school places for boys at the secondary level. We must convert co-ed high schools to single-sex schools, and build more grammar schools for boys only to redress the gender injustice which is woven into the fabric of Jamaican society.
- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.