The Teaching Profession. Aspects of Gender Equality in School
The ninth publication from the series Aspekty (Aspects)
The ninth publication from the series Aspekty (Aspects)* contains the findings of an analytical study carried out as part of the project ruzovyamodrysvet.sk (pinkandblueworld.sk) Gender Sensitization in the Educational Process at Elementary and Secondary Schools as Preparation for Future Job Desegregation.
The project was realized in 2005-2008 within the framework of the European EQUAL Community Initiative funded by the European Social Fund. This qualitative research was initiated by ASPEKT - the leading organization of the project partnership, and conducted by the Institute for Public Affairs and FOCUS.
While in many countries gender equality issues in education have been studied for several decades, in Slovakia these issues have only recently started attracting more attention. Nonetheless, knowledge of gender equality in education based on systematic research is a necessary precondition for formulation of inclusive educational policies that would not leave out a single girl or boy. It is therefore important to gain insight into the overall situation of teachers as well as their behavior and attitudes towards their pupils.
Interviews with teachers that are the main part of this research indicated that many gender inequalities survive in schools in Slovakia: high feminization of the teaching profession has an impact on a low social prestige of the profession and its low financial remuneration. Just like abroad, also in Slovakia teachers treat boys and girls differently and approach them with different expectations. Give the almost universal dominance of gender stereotypes also in the school setting these differences often remain hidden. It is therefore important to heighten gender sensitivity of teachers and to increase their competence in gender sensitive education and issues of gender equality. However, in order to achieve higher gender sensitivity of teachers it is also important to foster change in their social status, remuneration, working conditions and gender balance of the profession.
The research looked at the gender issues in education and schools from two main perspectives: from the “macro” perspective of available national statistics and from the “micro” perspective of teachers themselves. The analysis consists of two main blocks of issues. The first maps the current situation of the profession and social status of teachers in Slovakia – it describes and evaluates its various aspects and areas, one part of this analysis are also gender dimensions of the teaching profession. The second block strives to identify the degree of gender sensitivity in school through the reflection of gender differences in both professional and personal lives of teachers and through their declared attitudes and opinions about the situation in their schools.
The first part of the analytical study is based on statistical data published in periodicals and databases of the Bureau of Statistics of the Slovak Republic and on the website of the Institute of Information and Prognosis in Education (www.statistics.sk/pls/elisw/vbd; http://www.uips.sk/statis/index.html).
In Slovakia, the educational sector is one of the most feminized and the lowest-paid. A comparison of the share of women in different sectors of the national economy shows that the largest number of women is employed in the educational sector, after health care and social work. Also when we look at the average income in education and other sectors we notice that during the last decade almost no change has taken place. The income in the educational sectors has been the fourth lowest and it has constantly been far below the national average.
Over time, within the sector there has been practically no change towards lowering of the gender pay gap. On the contrary – comparisons show it is even increasing: in 1996 the difference between the incomes of women compared to men was 18.5% less; in 2005 it increased to 22.1%. Although this gap is slightly smaller than in other sectors and the national economy as a whole, the difference exceeding one fifth of the income can still be considered very high.
The share of women is the highest in primary education. Since 2000 it has been above 83%; in 2006 it was 84.6%. The share of women teaching at secondary schools is 70.1%. The percentage of female teachers is the lowest in higher education – women teaching at colleges and universities make up 42.2%. In higher education the share of women depends on the type of education: it is the lowest in technical schools, while in the social sciences and humanities the number of women increases. In secondary education, the lowest number of women teaches at forestry schools, the highest share of female teachers is at nursing, library and pedagogical high schools.
The analysis of the research findings is divided into two main parts: the first maps the current status of the teaching profession in Slovakia - it describes and evaluates its various aspects and areas, one part of this analysis is the gender dimension of the teaching profession. The second part of the analysis identifies the degree of gender sensitivity through the reflection on gender differences in both the professional and private life of teachers, and through their declared attitudes and opinions about the situation in schools.
Findings of studies conducted in other countries indicate that gender stereotypes are present in various areas of schooling and education. One of many definitions of gender stereotypes in education characterizes them as “different treatment of boys and girls in school”. This is understood as: the ways in which teachers react to their male and female pupils, how they communicate with them with respect to their occupational choices and what kind of encouragement boys and girls receive, but it is also as the way in which gender roles are presented and resented in textbook and other teaching materials.
Gender relations and presence and extent of gender stereotypes in schools and schooling were the main focal point of the second part of the research. They were studied through the qualitative research method of focus groups interviews with elementary school teachers. All together 5 focus groups took place in 4 Slovak towns: four of them were interviews with female teachers and one with male teachers. This division mirrors the female to male ratio of teachers in primary education in Slovakia. 36 female teachers and 8 male teachers took part in the interviews, and the composition of the focus groups was rather diverse. It encompassed younger as well as older and middle-aged teachers whose professional experience in teaching ranged from 3 to 37 years.
To a degree, the gender bias in education in Slovakia stems from general attitudes of teachers. It is therefore important to identify the extent of their gender sensitivity or of presence of gender stereotypes in their perception, and hence also in their profession in general. These findings could help to reveal where and how it is possible to intervene in order to foster gender equality and dismantle gender injustices in the educational sector.
Collected qualitative data were analyzed in two main contexts:
1) Gender sensitivity of elementary school teachers in relation to their aptitudes, diligence, talents, behavior and in relation to general opinions of teachers about their male and female pupils;
2) Visibility of gender dimension to elementary school teachers in terms of their profession, interaction with pupils, parents, but also with their colleagues.
The situation in education, as seen by teachers themselves, does not appear to be very rosy. Teachers identify a number of problems in the current educational system as well as in their daily work. The most visible is the long-term problem of inadequate remuneration – revealed also by the statistical analysis, related to the low social status of the teaching profession and disinterest of young people, especially men, in the profession. Feminization of primary education has reached an alarming level, when the share of men dropped below 15%.
Another problem that teachers perceive very keenly is the issue of integration of children with special learning needs into regular schools. They do not object to the principle of integration as such which is in line the UN Convention on the rights of children. What they consider problematic is accumulation of a larger number of pupils with different diagnoses in one classroom. According to the teachers, the integration was not adequately prepared and it is failing in concrete practical steps, which can go against the very interests and rights of children with special needs as well as their other classmates.
The teachers also expressed their dissatisfaction with excessive bureaucracy unrelated to the teaching process and with the fact that due to the lack of finances they have to “beg” contributions from parents. Many of them find this humiliating and regard it as something that even further lowers their status in the eyes of parents and unnecessarily hinders their friendly communication with them.
The teachers see their interaction with parents as inadequate. Some parents do not communicate with teachers of their children at all; they side with their children and often cover up their truancy and sloppiness.
The teachers also complained about the false picture of their profession created by the media, the lack of feedback from their governing institutions, which leads to many ambiguities, but also about unfair behavior of their school management and the overall lack of finances in the educational sector.
Summary of main research findings from the perspective of the gender analysis:
- Both female and male teachers overlook gender inequalities in education. Despite the fact that their professional life takes place in a setting characterized by a strong gender bias (more than 80 percent of all elementary teachers are women) and by many gender inequalities, teachers do not see them. When asked this question directly, they even deny the existence of these inequalities. They also overlook gender inequalities in their families, which is no different from the way these are perceived by the general public. It is mostly women who take care of children and the household and these tasks are also understood as women’s primary responsibility. The idea that the family and household is primarily a women’s sphere is among female teachers even stronger, as it is reinforced by the idea that the teaching profession is particularly suitable for women due to the organization of working time facilitating reconciliation of the family and professional life.
- Teachers do not perceive gender inequalities in their profession (also due to the gender bias of the whole sector compared to other sectors) or their family (also due to the so called advantages of the teaching profession); hence it is no surprise that they act upon gender stereotypes also in their teaching. The five focus groups interviews show that – just like in other countries – also in Slovakia gender stereotypes are deeply rooted in education. They are reflected in and perpetuated by the way in which teachers perceive their pupils in the context of the school. Also many general stereotypical attitudes and prejudices are alive in the school setting. Teachers have different expectations from their male and female pupils. Many of them are convinced that boys are better at mathematics and technical subjects (including working with PCs) and girls are better at socials sciences and humanities (such as languages). A large part of the teachers who took part in the research were convinced that boys have a higher ability for logical thinking and that mathematics is harder for girls. Worse learning results are also explained in a gendered manner: while worse school marks of boys are explained by their lack of efforts or discipline, those of girls are ascribed to their lower aptitudes.
- The interviews revealed that the teachers perceived the behavior of boys and girls in the school setting differently and pointed to their different treatment: boys need more motivation because there are livelier, while girls do not need as much motivation since they are calmer. Thus, pupils are being taught the prevailing gender roles also in schools. Teachers in general more or less accept the fact that boys are more active and critical; their behavior meets with more approval of teachers, they even appreciated it. The image of the school classroom with more active boys and more docile girls can be an outcome of a different gender socialization of girls (socialized to be polite and less assertive – e.g. not to interrupt when others are speaking), but it can also be related to the fact that teachers do not appreciate “boyish” behavior of girls. The research also shows that the teachers pay more attention to more active boys (they try to find different ways to attract their attention).
- The teachers often used a gender biased language. They address both boys and girls in the generalized masculine way, which can lead to a symbolic exclusion of girls and their invisibility in the classroom. In spite of the prevalence of women in education and on the staff of particular schools, both male and female teachers used the masculine gender when speaking about their situation. The interviewed female teachers used the masculine gender even when they spoke concretely about themselves.
The research pointed to many areas that would require intervention in order to achieve gender justice in schools, classrooms, and the education process as such. First of all, what is needed is to increase gender sensitivity of teachers both in the classroom and their daily lives. One big task is to inform the public about consequences of gender stereotypical ideas about development of boys and girls. But that is just a beginning. It is important that findings of research projects - also those carried out within the framework of European EQUAL Community Initiative - are taken into account in formulation of educational policies.
Some Quotes from the Interviews:
I think that girls gravitate to other things, not all of them like technical subjects, while boys do. It doesn’t have to be that way all the time, but it is so in my class…But I think that not every girl likes technical subjects (female teacher)
I work with gifted kids and 70 percents of them are boys – I believe that speaks for itself. And this really is because they have better logical thinking. I’ve heard some lectures about it, about the left and right hemisphere, that they differ in that way and they really have better logical thinking. (female teacher)
I believe that family upbringing is still very conservative here. It’s about Christian upbringing, therefore we are stuck in those male-female roles. There is a lot of discussion about feminization of some sectors and equalization of gender roles, but I believe that those mothers still teach their daughters that ‘you’ll become a woman and you’ll do such and such things’. (female teacher)
That’s girls’ nature, they are calmer, more responsible, they have better approach to things. (male teacher)
When I teach chemical formulas I can see that for boys it is enough when they pay attention only for a short while and they get the knack of it right away. But they are lazy. And girls catch up, because they learn it at home (female teacher)
Boys are more rational. (female teacher)
I think that the nature of our society is formed by how we bring up our children. What I always have before my eyes is that when a small girl falls down they will pick her up and console her: ‘do not cry, sweetie, does it hurt?’ When a boy falls down they tell him: ‘boys don’t cry.’ But it hurts him equally. It’s like we offer these things to boys – we buy them swords, and soccer balls, lead them to sports and fighting games and then they incline to this behavior through computers. That logical thinking is really being developed through these games and then through playing games and trick in life. And girls – they are more at home, well, they won’t go play soccer, so they dress up, read books, they help their mothers - ‘come help me to vacuum, do the dishes.’ But my experience is: there are girls with very good logical thinking. We are here, aren’t we! (female teacher)
(* The series Aspekty (Aspects) open up different approaches to gender issues that have become part of the public and political discourse, e.g. reproductive and sexual rights of women, violence against women, women in politics and women’s politics, gender mainstreaming, histories of women, gender aspects of parliamentary elections).