The contribution Tuesday last by Cynthia Cooke, principal of Camperdown High School, in response to my column, is typical of what is wrong with Jamaica's education system. She suggested that while I gave only my opinions, she would give facts: "I believe that most of what is written on these pages reflects the opinion of the writer. However, there is room for facts. Last Friday, I read the following in an article by Peter Espeut: "Every year more girls are sent to high schools than boys, resulting in vastly more women at university than men, and fewer suitable marriage partners for educated women. Mr Reid: can we fix this problem too?
"I thought that since this appeared to be a statement of fact (every year more girls are sent to high school than boys), I could find proof of this, somewhere in 'Googleland' or the archives of the Ministry of Education. I did not have the inclination to do the research, then I remembered something I frequently say to the parents of my students: "If what they tell you sounds like foolishness, then it is foolishness. I decided to reason it out for myself".
Cynthia Cooke does not have the inclination to be confused with facts. She prefers her own intuition - whether it sounds like foolishness or not. What I wrote "sounds like foolishness" so it must be foolishness, she reasoned. But all she had to do was go to the Ministry of Education's website (http://www.moec.gov.jm) and all the facts would have been there for her to see, and the foolishness of her approach would have been fully revealed.
More boys in grade seven
According to the ministry statistics (2008-2009), although there are marginally more boys (1.8 per cent ) than girls at grade six in primary/all-age, there are 59 per cent more boys in Grade seven of all-age, and 45 per cent more in Grade seven of primary and junior highs. Based on Grade Six Achievement Test, more girls go to secondary school, leaving vastly more boys in these residual schools. I suppose, to Cynthia Cooke, this sounds like foolishness.
The statistics show 10 per cent more girls in "Secondary High Schools". This hides the fact that there are more boys in upgraded high schools than girls, meaning that there are vastly more girls in traditional grammar schools than boys. Statistics, before the rebaptism of new secondary and comprehen-sive schools into high schools, are clearer about this although Cooke's intuition tells her otherwise: "If we are talking about when we had about 43 high schools that received students through the Common Entrance examinations, I don't think that statement is correct. Yes, we had twice the number of all-girls' schools as all-boys' schools, which could cause one to assume the above."
We still have 14 all-girls' and seven all-boys' high schools. In 1977 there were 23,725 boys and 26,549 girls in Grade 6 in government schools, but 11,348 boys (48 per cent and 21,127 girls (80 per cent) were entered for the Common Entrance Examina-tion. Most of the boys were not given a chance to fail. In 1977, 2,004 boys and 2,773 girls were placed in traditional high schools (i.e. there were 38 per cent more high school places for girls than boys).
This is what produces the vast disparity of girls over boys at the tertiary level, and the absence of suitable marriage partners for educated women mentioned last week. Maybe, to Cynthia Cooke, this sounds like foolishness, but she needs to check out how many eligible women complain they are in this position.
The 2008-2009 statistics show 102 per cent more women than men at community colleges, 496 per cent more at teacher- training colleges, 74 per cent more at the College of Agriculture Science and Educa-tion, 23 per cent at the University of Techno-logy, 137 per cent at UWI undergraduate, 120 per cent at UWI postgraduate, and 130 per cent at independent tertiary institutions. That's a lot of educated women seeking suitable marriage partners!
Girls develop psychologically and conceptually earlier than boys. Put boys and girls of the same age in the same class, and the girls will outperform the boys every time and give the boys an inferiority complex in the process - maybe right throughout life. What is foolishness is that this problem has operated so long without being fixed.
It requires a complete reassessment, but an obvious strategy is to have separate high schools for boys and girls.
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and a Roman Catholic deacon.