Saturday, 31 January 2015

Gender balance and education

I was browsing some local seminars recently, trying to better myself or something, and I spotted one regarding gender and primary education, supporting different outcomes for boys and girls and how to better encourage them to reach their early potential While I'm not sure I'll make it to the event itself, it got me thinking.  A dangerous habit, I'm sure you'll agree.

Thinking back to my own school days (in black and white, obviously) I attended two different primary schools, as we moved house when I was 9. Across these two schools, and probably somewhere around 15 primary teachers I encountered, there was only one male teacher.  Both schools had male headmasters, but only 1 actual, teaching children every day type teacher.  Squeaky's school is a little better. The head is male, there is one male teacher in the juniors department, but shock of all shocks, there is a male teaching assistant, who is actually based in Squeaky's class!  I know!  Hold the front page!

Yet when children move from primary to secondary education, there is a sudden and dramatic increase in the number of male teachers.  In my secondary school, the entire art, design & technology, science, geography and music departments were male.  Languages, RE, PE, and English were a mix of male and female teachers, and history, maths and home economics were all female.  And we had a male head teacher and deputy head.  Something of a balance shift there, I think you'd agree.  And looking in the other direction, there were no male staff at Squeaky's nursery at all, and I have seen otherwise educated and well balanced people say they would not send their child to a nursery where there were male staff!

Obviously I'm not saying my school experience was exactly the same as everyone else's.  Aside from anything else, I went to Catholic school, so there was the added bonus of nuns and the occasional priest added in to the mix, but looking at the friends I know in the teaching profession, the gender balance seems to remain in favour of female teachers at primary level, and male at secondary.

I should not be trusted with MS Paint. Fact.
On that basis, I had a quiet word with a friend of mine who works as a lecturer in a university.  She tells me that in her experience the balance is slightly different in Higher Education, where many of the people delivering the lectures are female, but the majority of senior staff are male. So, many students will see more female staff than male, but the reality is there are more male staff, who don't bother themselves with such trivial things as students.  This actually reflected my own university experience, but I had put that down to being in a small college, and studying a touchy-feely female heavy course.

What does this actually tell our children?  That women, and girls, can only learn so much? That their education levels are less important than their brothers? That they have less knowledge to share?  I hope not.  Women are, in family life, pushed into a nurturing role as a result of the whole pregnancy, giving birth type scenario. But why does that have to carry forward into education? Squeaky's teachers are not carrying her in their collective wombs, I did that bit.  They are filling her head with knowledge, ideas and ambition, and women have just as much of that as men.  Squeaky certainly has it in bucket loads, and is a veritable sponge to every piece of information that comes her way.

What am I trying to achieve here? Nothing really, I suppose, aside from venting.  The government are hardly going to sit up & take notice of this little corner of the blogosphere, and I can't change the past. But Squeaky's still quite fixed on the idea that she wants to be a teacher when she grows up, and I'm going to to my best to encourage her to be what she wants to be, and achieve all she can, no matter who or what tries to stand in her way.

What was your experience? Please do tell, I'm intrigued.

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