I talked about education this weekend with my friends. Two of them studied at Telecom Paris, where there were 8% of women in their year (and it was a « good one »). This is at least surprising, at worse problematic. A Brazilian friend also told us that the discrepancy between public and private education was even more alarming in her country. We next discussed possible solutions. One possibility consists in imposing quota. To set by law that the gender ratio should be 50-50 as is the case for some administrations in France. Another solution we discussed was the use of positive discrimination like it is the done in the UK.
These solutions all have their problems. One of my friend said that these solutions are discriminatory measures generating perverse effects. It sometimes may suggest that women are there not because of their skills but because they are women. While it is not THE best solution, it’s at least A pragmatic solution. The discussion then moved to the difference between exams and contests.
Credit: CC-BY http://clipart-library.com/competition-cliparts.html
We all agreed that a contest ranks people, which is by essence discriminatory. I proposed that a way to get rid of discrimination in the education system was to turn contests into exams. Contests work by classifying people, your grade or your ability to pass it does not matter. It is your ranking that matters, your performance compared to the others. I find this system deeply unfair for multiple reasons even if it is a way to select when you have a limited number of seats. But we could make the selection system fairer than it is today by replacing contests with exam.
Your grad or your skill is the only thing that matters in an exam. You do or do not pass an exam given a fix set of criteria. The ranking does not matter in an exam. But then how do you select? You may have already guessed my favourite pick: we could use sortition to randomly pick a finite number of people. I agree that it won’t immediately change the situation and solve the problem. But neither do quotas. And in this case there will be no doubt and no ranking. The selected people « deserved » their seats as they passed an exam, at the same time randomness will smooth the discrimination that was peaking in an engineer school like Telecom Paris.
What do you think about this solution? Put your comments below and thank you for reading!
P.S: Thank you Ali for correcting my far from perfect English!