By Olato Sam
The current situation regarding males in education is significant enough to warrant a strategic long-term intervention. Our education system cannot continue to operate as though all is well and hope that this pressing problem will somehow work itself out.
For over a decade there has been clear evidence that the boys in our schools are not having an equal experience to that of girls. More importantly, as studies have unearthed, the issue goes well beyond a mere question of competence, interest in or value for education. There are deep socio-cultural and other factors at play that indicate the need for a multifaceted approach towards addressing the issue.
The potential consequences of ignoring the problem are dire and the red-flags are numerous, demanding that something be done at the soonest. The issue is affecting the entire Caribbean and as such, there are some lessons from sister territories that could inform the approaches adopted.
One dimension and arguably one of the most significant contributors to the problem is the absence of male teachers in the system. The exodus of males from the teaching profession would have been chronicled over the last three decades. The process unfolded gradually, and over time it appears that the system simply adjusted to the changes.
There has not been any intervention to target the absence of male teachers in the system. Initially, economics was considered the major push factor at play. The question of whether this remains the primary consideration has merit and studies are now examining why boys are not opting for teaching as a career.
Regardless of the causes, there has to be a well thought out solution since the issue has now hit crisis proportions. The most recent data from the Ministry of Education show that there are 7,909 female teachers in the system as compared to a mere 1, 314 males.
Of these, only 404, less than one third, are at the key formative primary level. As one might expect, there are only five male teachers at the nursery level and the remainder are scattered across the higher levels of the education system.
Research has indicated that this acute imbalance impacts the quality of the educational experiences boys are having. In a future article what is termed ‘male underachievement’ will be addressed in greater detail. However, it is important to mention here that female teachers view the behaviour of boys much differently from male teachers.
The research indicates that female teachers consider boys at the primary level to be highly disruptive and uninterested in education—whereas girls on the other hand are viewed as settled model pupils. An extension of this is that boys are more often penalized for their behaviour which in turn impacts their academic experiences.
As early as grade four there are decisions made regarding the academic potential of boys that have little basis in competence indices but more to do with their behaviour. Where male teachers are present, there is likely to be a greater understanding and appreciation of the key biological differences which affect the perception of boys as behavioural issues, resulting in more balanced approaches in addressing the needs of boys in schools.
In studies across the world boys have reported that their male teachers encourage them more and have a greater impact on their confidence levels as pupils.
This issue has implications well beyond the academic experiences boys are having however, and speaks to the very nature of their socialization. Schools are critical socializing institutions and the absence of male role models in schools must impact the extent to which boys receive critical social cues regarding their gender identity and their expected roles.
Hunte, since 2002, has lamented the fact that the absence of male teachers further compounds the problem of the education of the ‘emotions of boys’. This forces boys to seek such guidance from alternative external sources that oftentimes are not as wholesome. Research has also shown that boys feel more comfortable speaking to male teachers about issues they are having both at home and at school.
As Hunte states, “Women, however talented, cannot be substitutes for men because they do not know or have experienced the emotions of men”.
It must be noted here that boys are not the only ones to benefit greatly from the presence of males teachers. Girls also need solid male role models to provide balance in their socialization. In addition, to the extent that schools are a microcosm of the society, they should fully reflect the diversity and prevailing cultural dynamics found in the wider society. There is an overabundance of accounts of the ‘feminization’ of schooling brought about in large part due to the absence of male teachers in the profession.
Both female and male inputs are vital to the effective delivery of education. The work environment is greatly enhanced by the presence of male teachers providing balance in perspectives and approaches. Traditionally males have championed the use of technology and the importance of sports and other extracurricular activities in schools. Their absence has left key voids that need to be addressed.
Although the problem has persisted for some time, there has been no coherent plan of action devised to address the issue. A strategic approach has to be developed to attract and retain males in the teaching profession.
Such a plan has got to go well beyond the issue of salaries and hone in on the factors that would make teaching a more attractive career option to males. Scholarship opportunities, incentive packages and accelerated career options are only a few approaches adopted by other education systems to attract more males.
Where plans have worked, equal consideration was given to dimensions of the working conditions that would also ensure, once recruited, that males enjoy the degree of job satisfaction that would ensure their retention and serve to encourage others to join the profession. Attention must be paid to the elements that would make teaching a more ‘male friendly’ professional pursuit and that would ensure the long-term success of the intervention.
It will require openness to innovative approaches that are culturally and contextually relevant given the diversity of our country. This has deep implications for the overall status of teaching within the society and would ultimately benefit all teachers, male and female, and by extension the nation at large.
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