The cruelty of comparisons

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The cruelty of comparisons

Jason McKay

Sunday, October 18, 2020

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For many years Jamaicans have had the opportunity to attend the high school of their choice depending on the grades they achieve in a national examination given to 11-year-olds. It has had many names — the 11 Plus, the Common Entrance, Grade Six Assessment Test, Primary Exit Profile. Different names, same injustice.

Why is it unjust? Well, it is more dependent on the primary school the student attended than on his or her ability. There are some schools that Einstein would fail in if he attended because of how poorly resourced they are.

Anyhow, this exam creams off the smartest kids in the country, who, of course, pick the schools known for academic excellence. Quite fairly, they get their selection. There was a time when placement was determined by money and status. It is better if it is decided by performance.

There are, however, those who do not have the links to help them attend the few great primary schools or the money to attend the preparatory ones. They are often barely literate and get sent to school in the inner-city or deep rural country, depending on where they live, with others like them. So, you have a pool of great academic talent in the top five schools and a 'sea of bewildered ignorance' attending the bottom five.

Here is where it gets rabid. Some organisation then decides to compare the performance in the Caribbean Secondary Education Certificate (CSEC) examinations that take place five years later. This is highly publicised and the schools that got the barely literate are made to appear that they are under-preparing the students, whilst the ones that got the geniuses are hailed for their efforts at really just making great remain great.

Now, I commend the commitment of the top five to ensure they keep the quality of the group platinum, but I do not think it is fair to do a national comparison without highlighting the advantage versus the handicap. In fact, I think a good test would be for the top five to make a special provision to create one extra form and to fill it with 40 disadvantaged youth, or should I say underperforming youth, and let us see how well they do with that group vs the institutions that get 200 kids who are all disadvantaged every single God Almighty year. Now, that is a comparison that would make some sense.

There is often a really bad habit of comparing cities with murder clear-up rates to Jamaica in circumstances where their murder rate per capita is a quarter of our own. This is really not thought out. Why? Well, if the murder rate is so much lower, then the caseload on the homicide investigation apparatus is going to be much less.

You see, the half that you have not been told is that there is almost no country wherein homicide units investigate as many cases per detective as Jamaica. Yet, many — like the St Catherine Major Investigations Division and the St Catherine South Criminal Investigations Branch — maintain an average clear-up rate of over 60 and often 70 per cent. This is in keeping with some US cities with a murder rate of about one-fifth of ours.

Here, however, is the cruelest of all comparisons.

This tragedy occurs when our rate of police shootings is compared to other environments based on population. So, you take a place — say Sweden — where no one is killing anybody and the most serious crime is throwing garbage on the sidewalk, and you compare their police shooting statistics to ours, when our murders are committed like it is a video game.

A fair comparison would be to compare Jamaica, at about 48 per 100,000 murders, to a country with similar murder/population statistics.

You see, crimes drive police operations. Police operations create more criminal/police contact, thus more police/citizen shootings.

So, let us compare.

Jamaica, Venezuela and El Salvador are staples in the top five murder rate lists in the world. Well, expectedly, they also have spent many a year in the top five for police/citizen shootings. This is, to me, expected if your armed forces are actually trying to combat the killers. But, this type of comparison does not serve the call of the persons conducting the analysis.

I have actually heard a representative of a local body compare Jamaica's police/citizen shootings with Chicago's. Chicago has a murder rate of 15 per 100,000, whereas we have 48 per 100,000. Theirs is literally one-third of our murder rate. The representative, of course, did not mention that variable. All that was used was population. This was a good example of using statistics to justify the message 'they' want to sell.

So, what do we gain from unkind comparisons?

Well, we have frustrated and embarrassed the school operators who were given barely literate children —who come with accompanying issues like absent fathers and overburdened mothers —to educate.

We have made a police force appear inept and trigger-happy.

However, most importantly, we have confused the public with these banal comparisons!

So let us talk solutions.

Regarding clear-up crime statistics, let us look at what the divisions at over 60 per cent are doing correctly and try to make it national. Why 60? Because that is the average for the United States of America (USA) and we love using their figures.

As it relates to police/citizen shootings, let us look at countries with a similar crisis of a homicide rate gone mad and work closely on joint solutions with those countries.

I have left the best for last.

Let us make a real effort to level the playing field for preferred high school entry. Make it mandatory for every 'super school' to create that earlier discussed extra class for the less brilliant, or should I say, less fortunate. We can also carefully analyse what the super primary schools are doing that is making them so much better and make a real, accountable effort to level that playing field.

Most importantly, let us admit to ourselves that we have failed in our attempt to create a high school system that can prepare all our teenagers for adulthood. This is in respect to tertiary level transition, or to seek gainful employment after graduation. Then, let us fix it according to our dynamic, not England's, USA's, or even Cuba's.

Feedback: drjasonamckay@gmail.com


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