The Ghana National Science and Maths Quiz: why a Girls school is unlikely to win it

Thursday, October 27, 2022

Yesterday, Presbyterian Boys’ Senior High School (Presec), Legon, won the National Science and Maths Quiz (NSMQ) for a record seventh time, beating Prempeh College and Adisadel College in a dramatic last round of ‘scientific riddles.’ The victory for Presec was in a charged hall in Kumasi, home of Prempeh College. It was amazing the pressure under which these gentlemen competed, with expectations from their schools, relatives and across the country.

An issue that has come up is the inability of Girls schools to win the NSMQ. Are the girls schools not as good as the boys (and mixed) schools? Many of the students in the girls schools were at par with the boys in Junior High School and perform well in the tertiary institutions against their male counterparts – in medicine and in other fields in science. Is it because the girls schools are just not interested in the NSMQ?

The NSMQ has evolved from a relatively unknown competition to a truly national competition that sees students (current and old) ‘fight’ for bragging rights. It is held in big halls full of cheering spectators and dignitaries. There are ‘difficult’ science and mathematics questions that have to be answered in 10 to 30 seconds (over four minutes for the ‘Problem of the day’). It is not enough to know or be able to calculate the answer. You must come up with the answer quickly, often competing against two other schools to come up first with the answer. So the competition has become driven by testosterone and adrenaline, hormones higher in boys/men than in girls/women.

Throw in the natural hormonal fluctuations in females. A young woman/adolescent with premenstrual syndrome may wake up in the morning and just not feel like talk to anybody, let alone work a complex mathematical problem in 30 seconds. Imagine one (or more) female students with dysmenorrhoea (painful menstruation) having to travel over 200km in a bus on bad roads to another town or city to compete against males under intimidating conditions. It is difficult to win. The ground is not even.

I am a gynaecologist (and an advocate for females). I know how difficult the evolution of the competition has made it and continues to make it for girls schools to win the competition. Maybe our girls schools should consider what happens in professional sports, where dedicated physicians may be in charge of the physiological and mental needs of athletes. This is not about ‘doping,’ but about considering the special health needs of females who have to compete with males under ‘difficult circumstances.’

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