One of my readers has brought to my attention a news story in the Trinidad Express of Friday, March 26, titled 'Minister: Shift to same-sex schools to target males'. And 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." I wonder if the education minister of Trinidad and Tobago reads my columns?
Jamaica's minister of education certainly doesn't, or at least, if he does, he doesn't take them seriously. For almost 20 years I have been pointing out what all teachers learn in Educational Psychology 101: that girls develop conceptually earlier than boys. 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, an important defence mechanism to assist girls to avoid early pregnancy.
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. Their 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 Trinidad Express article goes on to explain how the T&T government intends to address the problem: "Speaking at the post-Cabinet news conference at the Diplomatic Centre in St Ann's, Le Gendre said the pilot project would be conducted on a phased basis over a five-year period, with the first phase starting in September this year. This means some 3,000 of the 17,000-plus students who wrote the Secondary Entrance Assessment (SEA) exam will be placed in these 20 schools where the Form One levels would comprise of students of the same gender. By the end of five years, the schools would be fully converted to a same-sex school."
The minister went on: "Based on an analysis of modern research studies and findings, the ministry is of the view that there is ample evidence to support the consideration of more same-sex schools, in the context of the significant success of single-sex schools in Trinidad and Tobago."
But we have the same experience here in Jamaica - significant success of single-sex schools like Jamaica College and Cornwall College and St George's College, as well as Immaculate Conception High School and the Hampton School. Can't we learn from our own experience and apply modern psychological research in our own context? Trinidad and Tobago is going to do it, and Jamaica is going to fall even further behind our CARICOM partners.
There is a gender war being waged in Jamaica; it has been going on for a long time, and our boys are the losers. I don't believe there is much sympathy for our boys in the Ministry of Education because most of the education officers are women.
Trinidad and Tobago has a female minister of education, and she does not mince words: "Violence and indiscipline is not the driver of this programme. The driver for this particular programme is the improvement of student performance with particular attention to male student performance."
If male student performance is to improve significantly in Jamaica, we need to convert our co-educational high schools to single-sex schools. I call on Minister Holness to look around him and to take the initiative here. I call on our churches which operate so many of our high schools (many of them single-sex schools) to lead the way by converting any co-educational high schools they may have to single-sex schools.
It is time that we bring justice to our boys and young men. As I have said in previous columns, women will definitely benefit from this strategy: more educated men will mean more suitable marriage partners for Jamaican women.
Peter Espeut is a sociologist and a Roman Catholic deacon.