A Symposium on Boys’ Education last Friday heard that efforts to address the underperformance of male students will not rest solely on recruiting more men into the teaching profession.
“Can women successfully teach boys?” That was the question put to the attendees of the University of Guyana’s symposium at the Arthur Chung Convention Centre on Friday, when they heard a presentation on the “Feminization of Teaching.”
Friday marked the end of the two-day forum, which was held under the theme “Bridging the Gender Divide: Stemming the Tide of Male Underachievement in the Education System.”
Dr Christopher Clarke, Principal of the Shortwood Teachers College in Jamaica, made his contribution to the issue under the provocative title, “Can women successfully teach boys? Interrogating the Feminization of Teaching and the Absence of the Male Teacher.”
During his presentation, however, Dr Clarke noted that research has shown that, historically, in countries that have achieved universal primary education and gender parity in education, women have been central to those successes. At the end, he stated that the question was more a rhetorical one, and added that it was not really a question of if they can, but who, rather, has been successfully teaching boys. He noted that while there is a need for more male teachers, there is the need for passion to drive the profession.
Professor Barbara Bailey, Professor Emerita of the University of the West Indies, during her contribution to the discussions, opined that while men are needed in the classroom, a joint effort is required in order for the status quo to be fought and overcome, in an effort to improve male performance in education.
“I take the point that male teachers can make a difference in the classroom in respect to the boys. However, they cannot do it alone. The societal messages are far too powerful for individuals to neutralize… and one of the most powerful messages out there that’s bombarding boys is that ‘You do not need to educate yourselves in order to succeed…’ And how do we change that?” Professor Bailey questioned.
Dr Clarke, in his talk, examined the factors that have contributed to the feminization of the profession; feminization being a term that speaks to an occupation that is predominantly made up of women.
Those reasons range from the low remuneration that teachers receive and the lack of prestige attached to teaching, to the fact that teaching is largely seen as “women’s work” and hence, there is no push to recruit men into the profession.
“Teaching is still seen, certainly at the early levels, as women’s work…Men are seen as not being able to nurture. Men fear the stigma of doing that kind of women’s work given the kind of masculinity that we’re supposed to embrace…,” he stated.
Further to that, he noted that boys are socialized to “oppose anything that appears feminine.”
“In a Jamaican context, you’re not supposed to be using English too much, you’re supposed to speak with a ‘slanguage’… reading, which is so fundamental to everything in education, reading is perceived as a female activity…. Of course, there is homophobia; conforming to the tenets of hegemonic masculinity, restricting the range of school experiences. So, when I talk with boys and I see them operating, many of them want to cross what we call gender lines, but there’s the gender police… policing to see who is doing what,” said Dr Clarke.
Later, responding to a question about the makeup of the “gender police” he referred to, Dr Clarke explained that it is usually the case of boys policing other boys, and stated that it is a trait that comes naturally.
“So, if a boy is perceived as a sissy, he is policed and if he doesn’t conform to what we think boys should be then he is teased, he is ostracized, he is rebuked and even bullied,” he explained.
In terms of the solutions to the problem, Dr Clarke suggested that there is need for the Ministry of Education to develop a gender policy informed by metadata. He also suggested that a gender training course for teacher educators be introduced to the curriculum.
However, Professor Bailey, during the question/answer segment that followed Dr Clarke’s presentation, noted that steps had been taken at the level of CARICOM to have a module produced.
“We had sub-regional workshops for every teacher training institution in the CARICOM region.
Brought teacher-educators from the colleges together to talk, to walk them through and train them in terms of the content and to discuss ways in which they could go back and integrate that training, not just three credits, but a course, into teacher training programmes,” Professor Bailey related.
“I’m here to tell you, nothing came of it. And this is so painful. You take all the money, you do this kind of work, and the implementation falls flat…,” she added, noting that while the module may need updates, there is no need to “start from scratch.”