Education – one school per woman: The fight for a gender quota

Increasingly, schools are launching programmes that give girls and young women more positive role models and hands-on instruction – but the suggestion that a school board can be an authority that can “tell” a student how she should learn is flawed at best.

In 2014, Fordham University in New York set up a project called the School of Leadership to help girls learn to think creatively and more independently. The school was a collaboration between college faculty, the US Department of State, one of the top research institutions in the US, and several foundations.

Now Fordham is expanding the School of Leadership to Toronto and will enlist City Hall. But the concern isn’t just there. By the time the project is over in Toronto, there will be 1,700 women graduates all over the world, including 200 in Canada.

At the end of the year – on June 30, in fact – Toronto wants to have 1,000 women graduates. That’s a full 60 per cent more than the school should have in the US. Or 20 per cent more in the US, still not a huge population but an awesome figure. Not all the women are starting at Fordham, but they’ll all be there by the end of the year.

And don’t let the school’s response to these figures fool you. The School of Leadership has a thoughtful explanation for the statistics and its reasoning is sound. If it’s so fast, how come it took so long to get 100?

There are a number of things Fordham didn’t count. First, Fordham graduates are young, mostly in their 20s, and fast becomes old in a city like Toronto. When a school decides to set up in a city, you have a considerable impact on the local community, especially young people who are new in the neighbourhood.

You have to make a difference in a big way to have a profound impact. It’s not just for newcomers. A community of 100 women graduates will have a much different effect than a community of 100 who happen to be Fordham students. In our case, we’re establishing a new city, not finding office space.

Second, the women studying at the School of Leadership are a diverse bunch and their interests range from civil law to kung fu. Fordham is just about matching the diversity of the city, since its graduates are 49 per cent non-white and 35 per cent aged 35 to 44, making up 50 per cent of the school’s student body.

(Comparing this with a single class of male graduates is absurd. The Globe and Mail reported on Thursday that “the number of ‘young women” graduating from universities in Vancouver and Toronto skyrocketed 50 per cent in 2015 over the previous year, according to statistics from Statistics Canada’s Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario.”)

Third, each women’s class from Toronto is smaller than the class at Fordham. Just 120 women will have graduated from the School of Leadership when Toronto is done. The school expects to graduate 650 women between now and 2020.

The School of Leadership won’t even reach the Canadians but it may wind up behind

The New York school is starting to graduate graduates in Canada (it took office in 2015 and the first group graduated last year).

But a school still cannot be an arbiter of how young women learn. For one thing, if you or I are being asked to develop other people’s learning strategies in an academic environment, we’d probably want to ask questions.

For another, the School of Leadership is considering establishing schools in San Francisco, Leningrad, Chengdu, Mumbai, Shanghai, Beijing, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Taiwan, New York and England. The school wants to find ways to reach just as many young women as possible. It’s in no hurry.

According to reports by the Globe and Mail, incoming chief executive Amber Cumberbatch says: “These women all look like you, they are like you, they may wear a hijab, they may be from a disadvantaged background, they may be from the Middle East – yet they have made their way into leadership positions. For me, that is an extraordinary story and that is an extraordinary achievement.”

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