This year’s Teachers’ Day, which falls on Thursday, will once again be a time for people to discuss issues related to teachers and education, ranging from whether parents should give festival gifts to their children’ teachers to how their kids can get the best education possible.
But there is another and more significant issue the whole of society should not ignore. That is the gaping gender imbalances among teachers in primary and middle schools nationwide. If the authorities continue to fail to make changes, such a phenomenon may affect the cultivation of male students’ masculinity during their critical period of growth.
According to a report published by the Beijing Normal University in September 2012, the gender imbalance among primary and middle school teachers in urban schools was astonishing, with female teachers in urban areas accounting for 79.39 percent of the teachers in primary schools and 64.4 percent in middle schools. The proportions in rural areas were not that high. In Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou female teachers accounted for 74.4 percent, 74.21 percent and 61.74 percent respectively at the time of the report’s publication. Worse, not only are male teachers a small proportion of newly recruited teachers, but some of the existing male teachers show growing aspirations to quit.
Some educationists have warned of the serious social consequences that may be caused by such a gender imbalance, as kindergarten and primary school education is a critical period for character formation and the lack of male teachers could result in them having a false gender identity perception.
Imbalances between male and female teachers in East China’s Shandong province are so serious that they were a heated topic at the sessions of the provincial legislature and advisory body early this year. Some were concerned that the lack of sufficient male teachers would make boy students too feminine when they grow up.
The scarcity of male teachers even prompted Yang Yuhua, a deputy of the provincial legislature and a middle school principal, to call for “salvaging male teachers” as an urgent social problem to be addressed at this year’s session of the local legislature. Yang’s school has 370 teachers but less than 70 of them are men. “The lack of enough male teachers has caused us to abandon a previously planned soccer course because we cannot find competent sports teachers,” she said.
At a rural primary school in Weifang, also in Shandong, only one of the 24 teachers is male, and he is the principal. Some children never have any male teacher during their primary and middle school period.
The relatively low incomes of low-grade teachers is believed to be a main factor behind men’s reluctance to become teachers, given that traditional family values defines men as the household’s economic pillar. Teachers have a high social status, but many teachers’ incomes are not proportional to their status or workload. The country’s regulation that teachers’ incomes should not be lower than that of public servants has never been effectively implemented, although it has been in place for almost two decades.
Only with an income commensurate with their input and the cultivation of a social atmosphere where the slogan “respect to teachers” is implemented with concrete action, can the society really attracts excellent men to join the teaching teams and change the current gender imbalances among teachers.
The author is a senior writer with China Daily.
(China Daily 09/10/2015 page8)