There is an inconsistency in my thinking. On the one hand, I agree with the truism that education (especially higher education) is the fastest road to both development and peace. And yet, I would also agree with anyone who says that formal institutions of education are now less relevant than ever.

So, I don’t know exactly what to make out of this statistic from Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post. The daily paper says that 85% of this year’s incoming university freshman class in the province of Anhui is female. For every 17 female students there are only three males! While this is obviously great news for those three male students (immature ménages à trois reference here), it makes you wonder about those missing 14 guys, right?

The paper blames the internet:

An education expert said the female students studied harder than their male counterparts and that men were more attracted by the Internet and other entertainment.

It’s no secret that girls study harder than boys. I remember some of my female classmates from high school who studied for hours on end. Literally, as soon as school was over, they would head home, pile their books high on their dining room tables and meticulously highlight every other sentence with pink, purple, and orange highlighters. There were flash cards and practice tests and notebook dividers decorated with flowers, trees, and clouds. On both papers and exams they nearly always received A’s and most of them were accepted into California’s best universities.

Then there was my group of guy friends. We thought that homework assignments were meaningless handouts of busywork. Exams, we argued, only tested our temporary short-term memory (of which there was little left thanks to our recent discovery of marijuana). Most of us just barely survived high school and probably only because our high school counselors were so sick of using up their well-practiced lectures about our ‘untapped potential.’ And so: more marijuana, more drinking, more experimentation, a couple years of community college …

And today? Many of them are lawyers, scientists, academics, businessmen, corporate ladder-climbers. The straight-A girls also have steady jobs. One is an event organizer, many are teachers, and two work for advertising firms. But none of them hold – or on the path to holding – what we would call leadership positions.

I know this all looks like a thinly veiled way of echoing a popular gender stereotype: guys are out to lead, girls are out to please. I’d like to not believe it, but I need more examples of women who are self-motivated to become leaders of government, business, and even civil society. I know all the usual explanations (women are discriminated against, they are brought up to not believe in themselves, boys are too physically aggressive in classroom conversations) and I believe in them.

But now we’ve reached a point where 85% of incoming university students of a Chinese province are female. Did they get there because they were eager to please their high school teachers and their parents or because they are the ones who are going to lead China into the future? What will come of all those young Chinese men who aren’t attending university? What are they doing all day long on the internet? Just playing games? Looking at porn?

There was an NY Times Op-Ed earlier this year called The Weaker Sex. It was, in fact, little commentary and much observation: more females are going to college, women are living longer then men, they tend to be healthier, more intelligent, and better at saving/managing money. If any group deserves affirmative action, the editorial went on, it is men.

Only time will tell.