Gender Inequality in Schools Persist
The issue of gender inequality in education has been a regular talking point for decades but the problem continues to persist as we observe World Teachers Day 2013. One of the major concerns, related to gender inequality, for teachers at this juncture in our development is the crisis affecting our boys.
Educationist say "a spiraling percentage" of adolescent teenage boys are displaying "intellectual lethargy and academic impotence". They claim that an unsettling number of male students show more susceptibility to the drug culture than girls; get suspended more frequently and generally view school and education as a waste of time.
These deviant behaviour patterns among boys, experts argue, is partly due to the fact that the number of male teachers in the education system is now abysmally low. Educators are becoming increasingly aware of the need for the presence of many more male teachers in order to turn around boys' underachievement and provide role models. In fact Guyana's Ministry of Education announced a few years ago that it was embarking on a "robust" marketing and recruitment drive to reverse the decline of male teachers through a "Be a Man, Teach Guyana" campaign. Maybe we can adopt that campaign here in Dominica.
So what are the reasons for men's avoidance of the classroom? The issue of salary tops the list, we are told. Many males go after higher paying jobs since teaching is not really a profession that pays salaries commensurate with the responsibilities and stress related to the job. Additionally, many males believe that teaching is woman's work. Again, there is the prevailing philosophy within the education system that men go into teaching to "teach the subject," and women enter teaching to nurture and develop children. Hence, the argument states, males tend to gravitate toward secondary and tertiary educational institutions, leaving a critical shortage of male teachers at the elementary and pre-school levels.
Another aspect of gender inequality that Dominican teachers may want to consider during discussions on World Teachers Day is that although women represent an overwhelming majority of students at every level of higher education, women are disadvantaged in terms of rank and institutional prestige.
But gender inequality is not the only major problem affecting teachers in Dominica. Consider this. Without teachers there will be no schools; without schools, our youth would wilt like flowers in the hot Dominican sun. This sounds simple enough. But paradoxically, policy makers continue to treat teachers as if they cost a dime a dozen. They seem oblivious to the fact that teachers are absolutely important to the attainment of good quality education that is essential for achieving the level of sustainable development that we desperately need.
Nevertheless, many persons are of the view that our education system itself has simply not worked well enough to ensure adequate levels of social and economic development. Though we have made some progress in terms of the population's access to education and our students have performed creditably at regional examinations, the overall quality of our education remains quite low. We also agree with the argument that most children start school at the appropriate age and enrolment levels at secondary school are high. Nonetheless, education officials are generally unhappy with our graduates' mastery of numeracy, literacy and their ability to think critically. Additionally, given the high level of unemployment that exists side by side with the scarcity of skilled workers in many areas the relevance of our curriculum is questionable. As educators and teachers end their observance of World Teachers Day 2013, we hope that these were some of the issues that occupied their minds.
Another issue that the Dominica Association of Teachers (DAT), in particular, must be concerned about is what some persons consider to be the pervasive violence in schools. Indeed, many teachers will admit that coping with ill discipline in schools is one of the foremost challenges of the teaching profession in Dominica and the rest of the Caribbean. They contend that the offences children commit in schools are many and can range from minor classroom or playground altercations to incidents of violence that require the intervention of the police.
Whenever discussions on the level of ill discipline in schools ensue, the fact that teachers no longer have the status they once had receives prominent attention and is offered as a cause of the problem. But deviant behaviour in schools has to be blamed also on examples that abound in the wider society. What happens in the homes and on the streets inevitably find their way inside the schoolrooms.
There is also the need for teachers to be given back the responsibility for disciplining students, Dr. Beverly Merrill argues in her 1998 book: Crisis in Caribbean Schools suggests. She says that a teacher who constantly passes the problem to the principal looks weak, ridiculous and ineffective in the eyes of the students. Significantly, Dr. Merrill has recognised the need for efficient and effective guidance counseling departments at all schools.
Just a few days ago Dominican teachers joined their counterparts in the rest of the world in observance of World Teachers Day. We hope our teachers not only considered issues affecting teachers but also the problems affection the wider society. Because as Victor Hugo tells us: "He, who opens a school door, closes a prison."