Jamaica is a profoundly unequal society, and you don't have to be a sociologist to see that different social groups benefit to different degrees from our economy.
If social equity is a value to be strived towards (and not everyone holds this position), then one goal of social action (and political action, etc.) should be to reduce distinctions between classes of people.
On the moral level, most of us may support equality between races, classes and genders, but the fact is that the way our social institutions work, the inequalities in Jamaican society are faithfully reproduced from one generation to the next.
Stereotyped gender roles
The education system is one of the main social institutions which reproduces social and economic inequality in Jamaica.
Schools perpetuate stereotyped gender roles in overt ways: boys study carpentry and girls study home economics; boys do agriculture and girls do needlework. That stereotype is breaking down, but there are more pernicious aspects of our education system that are accepted as 'normal'.
In many ways, the makeup of males and females is different and unequal. For example, psychologists tell us that females develop earlier than males; eleven-year-old girls are more conceptually mature than their male counterparts, and that's just how nature works.
No one is oppressing or disadvantaging anyone; simply, it is a fact of life that, mentally, girls develop earlier than boys, and boys need not feel inadequate about this. And this is not a Jamaican or West Indian thing; it is a human thing. The same psychologists also tell us that boys catch up with girls by about age 17 (or they are supposed to, anyway). There is no innate difference in intelligence between adult males and females.
And so, knowing the above, suppose you wanted to promote the supremacy of females over males in any society, how would you go about it? There are three obvious strategies which would be very effective: first, you would choose the age at which girls are far superior to boys, and you would require that both groups take a written examination at that age to determine who goes to the best high schools.
If you create an education system where the secondary selection examination takes place at age 11 for both boys and girls, the girls would be guaranteed to far outperform the boys, and would run away with all the open scholarships!
The second thing you would do is to put boys and girls of the same age in the same grades and classes. The girls, being more conceptually developed, would not only outperform the boys, but they would also give the boys an inferiority complex! It may scar them for life!
More places for girls
The third thing you would do, is to create more high school places for girls than for boys, which would ensure that more girls would be able to qualify to go to university.
You would do this in three ways: you would build more single-sex girls schools than single-sex boys schools; you would ensure that the single-sex girls schools are bigger than the single-sex boys schools; and you would ensure that the co-educational schools have more female pupils than male pupils.
Disadvantage in Primary school
But even before they sit together in the examination room, you would want to disadvantage the boys in primary school.
In the primary classroom, you would put the boys in the back where they would get the least attention from the teacher, and would be most likely to play and skylark rather than be diligent in their studies; of course you would move the girls to the front of the class.
To cap off your comprehensive strategy to disadvantage males, you would spread the rumour that the education system favours males, and you would vilify anyone who suggests that the system, in fact, favours females!
Implement these strategies and you can expect that at the tertiary level, the ratio of females to males will be at least 82:18 and that your job of creating gender inequality would have been well done. Well done!
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and is executive director of an environment and development NGO.