The SCQ gender conundrum — Brilliance or confidence?


Monday, March 19, 2018

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As I pondered the recent celebration of women's achievements I was puzzled at the performance of two leading girls' schools on Schools' Challenge Quiz (SCQ) last week. So I posted this message on social media: “Two bright girls' schools did not do well this week in School's Challenge Quiz. It may be that girls are not trained to compete as hard as boys. Would like to hear opinions on this.”

This resulted in an enlightening discussion, excerpts of which I share below from Facebook and Twitter:

Dave Rodney reminded us that the first SCQ was actually won by a girls' school — St Hugh's High: “I didn't see the matches this week but I've seen some interesting observations with the Wolmer's schools as an example. Every year the girls outperform boys by far on external examinations. The boys have won SCQ numerous times, but the girls have never been close. But that said, the first year of SCQ was won by St Hugh's High School for Girls, who beat Cornwall College (for boys.”

Dr David McBean: “Top of Form; SCQ is not a function of brightness. If you have a good memory, swift powers of recall, and great reflexes you can beat the bright child, as the questions that require logic and reasoning are in the minority.”

Clyde Paul McKenzie: “It is important to put this debate into perspective. Many 'bright' students don't perform well on SCQ. It could perhaps also be argued that some of those who do well on the show might not be truly 'bright'. It does seem, however, that many of those who perform well on the show are exceptionally bright. What this could mean is that the skill sets for a successful foray on the quiz might be positively correlated with being 'bright'. So while it might be safe to say that those who do well are likely to be 'bright', it does not follow that those who are smart will do well on the show. I use my quotes (marks) to show that notions of brightness are highly subjective. Richard Feynman, who was once considered the 'most brilliant' human being in the world, had to be given special favours to enter MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) because his grades on the verbal section of his SATs (Scholastic Assessment Tests) were so low.”

Aloun Ndombet-Assamba: “I don't know if doing well at SCQ is necessary for doing well at life after school. In 5th form at Merl Grove I was on the team. We were knocked out by St George's College in the first round, although we had beaten them in the practice match! I think the boys' schools spend many, many hours practising the buzzer and swotting the answers. I've seen boys going to SCQ camp even during the Christmas holidays! I don't know if the girls take it so seriously.”

Shirley Maynier Burke: “I saw this — it is important because a disproportionate reputation is attached.”

Here are some responses on Twitter (sic):

@mauricefortis: It's a competitive sport, with adrenaline pumping like in a football pitch or play video games... would be tuff for women to compete with what boys are socialised to do.

Hilary Wehby: I think it also depends on how much importance the schools' leadership places on schools' challenge versus other areas of endeavour as a school.

@ReeceMelanie: Quiz is not a priority for some schools. The priority is probably CAPE (Caribbean Advanced Proficiency Examination) exams in a few weeks.

Garth Ralph: …I know girls are just as capable to perform. Perhaps the pressure of being on a live show with a larger audience.

One commentator, the graduate of a co-educational school, said her experience was that the coach focused more on the boys, even offering them an 'SCQ weekend camp' which was not offered to the girls. Let us hope that, in the words of business trailblazer Sheryl Sandberg, we will see more coaches and their female students 'leaning in' and showing the prowess which is on full display in their high school and university achievements. Coaching for competition may well be the game-changer for better representation of women in private and public-sector leadership positions.

Best wishes, Krystal Tomlinson

Speaking of competition, perhaps Krystal Tomlinson's courageous step into the political arena as president of the People's National Party Youth Organisation was emboldened by her triumph in debating on the world stage. My uncle, Carlton Lowrie, former coach of The University of the West Indies Debate Team says she was one of his brightest stars, copping the international prize ahead of many Ivy League competitors. As mentioned by Minister Olivia “Babsy” Grange recently, we need more women in politics, so let us hope we are on our way to achieving the gender balance in leadership that has brought much success to other countries.

JTA 'sick-out'

There was an epidemic among Jamaica's teachers which had them laid up for all of three days last week, while Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA) President Georgia Waugh-Richards engaged with Finance Minister Audley Shaw on salary increases. While I agree that teachers deserve to be well paid, I believe that a sick-out so near to examination time was too hard on students and their families.

Former Private Sector Organization of Jamaica CEO Dennis Chung noted that after the chikungunya outbreak, the country's loss in national productivity was in the region of $6 billion. It would be interesting to see how much this sick-out cost the country as working parents had to see to the supervision of their children. I would encourage the JTA to look at the myriad other means of protest. Social media is a powerful tool, and many supportive students and parents would march for teachers in after-school hours.

Farewell, Sister

Sister Theresa Jackson (TJ to her colleagues), a member of the Religious Sisters of Mercy, was passionate about her beloved Jamaica, serving on the Social Justice and Human Rights Committee of the Roman Catholic Church, and as a founding member of the Citizens Action for Free and Fair Elections (CAFFE). She travelled throughout the country as head of Jamaica's Lay Leadership Training Programme for 32 years and served as director of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Centre and Coordinator of the Laity Training Programme run by St Michael's Seminary for 22 years, retiring in 2015.

At a thanksgiving mass for her life last Friday at the Alpha Christ the King Chapel, administrator of the Sisters of Mercy, Sister Susan “Sue” Frazer noted her work in various capacities at Alpha Boys' School and St John Bosco, and with the Sisters of Mercy locally and regionally.

“I say all of this because I believe that TJ's work with the church was often a silent and invisible work,” said Sister Sue. “…To say that TJ was passionate about being Jamaican is an understatement. She was fiercely Jamaican and, let this be known to all who would listen, Terry stood firm in her beliefs and took seriously the maxim of our Foundress Catherine McAuley, 'To have great confidence in what you do and what you think best. State your opinion and always act with courage.' ”

Our condolence to the Sisters of Mercy and family members of the inspiring Sister Sue.

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