Peter Espeut | It's both sexist and classist
Yes, our education system is classist, as the headlines screamed last week, but it is also sexist, which does not get nearly enough airplay.
The Jamaican colonial state, grounded in plantation agricul-ture, designed an education system to suit itself. All classes, races and genders were to receive something, but equality of quality was never the intention.
When Jamaica's first Education Act was debated in the Jamaica House of Assembly, one assemblyman made this very revealing statement: "Emancipation has removed the whip; we must now control their minds through education."
Since Jamaican estates could not operate without labour, the planter-controlled Assembly put strategies in place to ensure that the former slaves stayed on the sugar plantations and coffee estates to work. Educated men and women would not work as manual labourers, and so an "education system" had to be put in place that would focus on "manual training" rather than academic pursuits, and which would focus on the virtues of obedience and respect, which would produce a docile and compliant working class.
And it worked to a point, but the non-conformist missionaries established dozens of free villages with schools attached to their churches, and many former slaves became peasant farmers on their own land.
At the same time, the children of the merchants, planters, overseers, and clergy were schooled overseas or in local private schools that charged fees, which denied access to children of other classes. For more than a century, Jamaica has operated two education systems side by side - one privately funded and the other government-run - with their grossly unequal resources, facilities and outcomes.
Same colonial vision
Jamaica's two major political parties - both born in the colonial era - had as their goal the replacement of British colonial administrators with themselves. Britain was only too happy to oblige, yet it is clear that the largely brown colonial elite that assumed management of the Jamaican State were possessed much with the same colonial vision of their former masters.
More than half a century after Independence, we have not found any major crop to replace the colonial-era sugar, bananas and coffee, and we have not much mechanised our agriculture since the bad old days, while the international marketplace for those crops has changed. We still need a large unskilled manual labour force, and we have maintained the same education system designed by the labour-hungry slave-owning planter class.
We have tinkered here and there. We have incorporated many of the private high schools into the public-school system by offering them grants-in-aid. Despite accepting most of their intake from a filtering examination, these have remained largely elite in class composition and performance.
Looking at the 2017 rankings calculated by local think tank Educate Jamaica, only one government-owned-and-operated high school ranks in the top 10 (the Montego Bay High School for Girls, founded in 1935), and only one other falls in the top 20 (Belmont Academy - a new high school in Westmoreland, founded in 2009). Thirteen of the top 20 are church schools, and five are owned and operated by trusts founded more than 150 years ago.
In this Education Week 2017, the PNP and the JLP need to reflect on why, over the last 50 years since the departure of our colonial masters, they have not been able to even approach the quality of church and trust schools.
Of interest also is that in the top 10, seven are all-girl schools (as are 11 of the top 20; only one school in the top 20 is an all-boy school (eight are co-ed).
Part of this is because we have more high schools for girls (14) than boys (7), which is discriminatory, and many of the co-ed high schools have more places for girls than boys (some by two-to-one). This is because educating boys reduces the agricultural labour force, resulting in fewer men to cut cane and weed bananas. Since Indepen-dence, we have continued with the same plantation-era colonial education policies.
In the almost 25 years that I have been writing this column, I have argued that Jamaica's education system is sexist, with overt discrimination against boys. For decades, psychologists have known and taught that, on average, girls mature faster (conceptually) than boys, until about age 17, when the boys catch up.
Placing the filtering examina-tion at age 11 is unfair to boys, as the girls will always do better on average. And putting boys and girls together at grades seven to 11 is discriminatory against boys because the girls will run circles around them and demoralise them.
Yes, our education system is classist and sexist. We have known this for decades. But when are we going to start doing something about it!
- Peter Espeut is a sociologist and Roman Catholic deacon. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.