Kumasi-based Prempeh College became the 20th winners of the National Science and Maths Quiz (NSMQ) last Friday, beating off competition from Adisadel College and University Practice SHS — both of Cape Coast — to claim only their third title.
It was the 18th time a single-sex school had triumphed at the event, none of them girls.
Only twice have a girls’ school earned a finalists’ finish, with only three schools that admit students of both sexes (twice for Achimota School, and one apiece for Kumasi Anglican SHS and University Practice SHS) — victors Achimota in 1998 and 2004 aside — belonging to that same category.
Without sounding sexist, it does appear that the fairer sex — namely, the feminine — represents an Achilles’ heel for schools that admit them and compete at the NSMQ.
Interestingly, institutions like Wesley Girls High School — runners-up in 1999 — and others rank quite high, if not at the very top, when results of the annual West African Secondary School Certificate Examination are released. Just why they can’t cut it at the ‘Brilla’ (as the Quiz is popularly known among students), then, is quite confounding.
Or maybe it really isn’t.
The NSMQ is, of course, not like the WASSCE. Answers to complex questions in the subjects of Physics, Elective Mathematics and Chemistry that would take minutes of calculator-enhanced brain-racking in a typical exam to arrive at is required within seconds in a NSMQ contest. The point here, then, is that it takes more than just intelligence – which girls doubtlessly possess as much as boys do — to succeed at the NSMQ; fortitude of the psyche counts too.
That’s one aspect where perhaps female students fall just short. Males generally bear and soak pressure better, ensuring that they would have an edge with regard to making instant decisions, even if sometimes rash and incorrect. Females would usually like to think things through thoroughly — ever proposed love to one? — before making a choice (usually the right one, admittedly), and it’s just the length of time needed for such careful analysis that the NSMQ’s format doesn’t cater for.
According to a new study presented at the 109th Annual Meeting of the American Sociological Association last year, risky situations tend to increase anxiety much more in women than in men, and the resulting stress, needless to say, can seriously thwart performance.
There is also the fact, debated though it may be, that girls stereotypically tend to show greater aptitude for creative subjects (reading, the arts, et al) than boys, many of whom are more inclined to enjoy the sciences.
More than just the opinion of this writer, that very viewpoint is supported by, if not fact, credible research.
Says a portion of an article sourced from the University of Michigan’s website: “It has . . . been suggested that girls and boys have gender-based learning preferences, where boys are more inclined to like the theoretical and competitive learning environments, while girls prefer creativity and cooperative learning environments. These learning preferences may lend themselves to particular subjects as girls adjust well to the creativity associated with reading and writing, but may not perform as well in math and science which are traditionally taught in a competitive manner. (Boy’s Achievement; Wigfield, 2002; Holden, 2002).”
And that’s why a school’s chances of excelling at the NSMQ would be severely compromised should they present candidates of mixed gender.
Could Achimota have gone that extra step to pick the crown in 2009 had their contestants been all boys?
Or might University Practice SHS even have reached as far as they did this year — just four points behind the eventual champions – were one of their two reps female, given the factors explained above?
For a mixed school, however, the dynamics could be influenced by some other factors, as a colleague*, formerly of Achimota School, reveals.
“I think there is one distraction too many on the campuses of mixed-gender schools,” he says.
“You notice that single-sex schools are better-placed to have more focused students with respect to academics as there isn’t the obvious conflict between ‘mingling’ [i.e, amorous relationships facilitated by the proximity of both sexes in mixed-gender schools] and studying.
“Another factor,” he continues, “could also be that science as a course generally isn’t given as much prominence in such [mixed] schools, at least per my experience, as at the Opoku Wares, PRESECs, and Prempehs. Sample some of the more distinguished alumni of ‘Motown’ [Achimota’s nickname], for one, and you’d likely realize we’ve had more gems in the humanities.”
True or not, the observation that jumps quickest at you when reviewing the NSMQ’s history is what has been discussed about the slight disadvantage females suffer probably for the reasons already identified. For a competition that has only ever had quiz mistresses — learned and remarkably accomplished ones, for that matter – the trend is rather unfortunate and also represents a harsh kick in the face of girl-child education, even as that cause continues to be championed across Ghana.
Until a girls’ school breaks this particular duck, however, the NSMQ would always make for sore viewing for many advocates of gender equitability, this writer included.
Source: Sammie Frimpong/Ghana/starrfmonline.com/103.5FM