Thu | Jul 18, 2019

More focus on gender in teaching needed - JTA president

Published:Monday | April 29, 2019 | 12:17 AM

Dr Garth Anderson, president of the Jamaica Teachers’ Association (JTA), has called for more attention to be given to the issue of gender in the teaching profession, and for its relationship with student outcomes to be more closely examined.

The president was speaking at the opening of the JTA’s 18th Annual Education Conference, held in partnership with JN Bank, at the Hilton Rose Hall Resort and Spa in St James on April 23. The conference was held under the theme, ‘Gender and the Teaching Profession: Implications for Teaching and Learning’.

“Despite the stated importance of education, not much attention has been given to gender issues among teachers, and the implications for teaching and learning, as we tend to shy away from that discussion,” Dr Anderson argued.

Referencing a 2007 United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation report, he pointed out that there is a wide disparity in the number of male and female teachers employed in the education system at all levels: 89 per cent women and 11 per cent men at the primary level; while at secondary schools, there is a ratio of 69 per cent women to 31 per cent men.

Weighing in on the issue, JN Bank’s chief of business banking and public-sector engagement, Ryan Parkes, pointed to more data to underscore the reality facing the education system.

Referencing data from the Statistical Institute of Jamaica, he noted that the gap between male and female teachers widened over the five-year period 2011 to 2016, especially at the secondary level.

“Overall, the gap remains very wide, with the system employing nearly 19,000 female teachers in 2016, compared to only some 5,000 male teachers. This represented an increasing gap, which grew some 0.4 percentage points between 2011 and 2016; or 0.8 percentage points, if we use 2012 as the base year,” he noted.

Dr Anderson stated that despite the reality, much of the discussion about gender has centred mainly on the academic outcomes of students, which consistently show girls significantly outperforming boys in primary and high schools.

He challenged teachers to consider whether there are differences in how genders grasp subject matters, and whether there are differences in employment practices and promotions in schools, based on gender.

“The interpretation of these issues, in my mind, directly influences teaching and learning; and, consequently, they must be seen as part of the composite whole when we think about the efficiency of our classrooms; and schools, when creating learners for the global community,” Dr Anderson said.

Cautioning teachers not to simplify gender by defining it as one’s biologically assigned sex of male or female, keynote speaker Dr Leith Dunn, head of The University of the West Indies’ Institute of Gender and Development Studies, also urged participants to consider various issues that may affect teaching and learning.

She said that gender matters because gender identity is promoted through education to ensure both males and females have the same access to learning opportunities; and are positioned to achieve equitable outcomes in all spheres of life.

“Education is a basic human right; gender equality is key to fulfilling those human rights; and gender inequality is manifested in several aspects of the education sector,” Dr Dunn posited.

Among the manifestations of gender issues in the education system, she pointed out, were stereotypes in the roles of males and females, and biases teachers bring to the classroom. Both of these issues affect access and equality.

Contributing her perspective on the issue, acting permanent secretary in the Ministry of Education, Dr Grace McLean, acknowledged that there are inherent stereotypes about the roles for males and females, which affect education delivery and educational outcomes. However, she said there is enough research available now to provide more opportunities to focus keenly on the issue of gender in education.

“We are now at a place where we can seriously look at gender; and with the data available, we can make decisions as to how we can ensure equal opportunities for all our children,” she said.