Clearing the way for more male primary teachers
Australia is facing a significant problem in relation to the education of boys. They are falling behind where they were some 35 years ago, and they're represented more than 2 to 1 in the bottom 25% of educational outcomes. Our sons, at the moment, represent 80% of children involved in school disciplinary programs, and almost 100% of those that are being expelled. They are three times more likely to be involved in a car accident, more likely to be involved in assault and drug related incidents, and they're five times more likely to take their own lives.
That's why the Government is prepared, and is determined, to amend the Sex Discrimination Act, to make sure that scholarships can be offered by Catholic, Independent, and Government Schools, to attract more men to apply for teaching positions in primary schools.
The Government is currently undertaking a range of initiatives to address this problem, such as the Lighthouse Project, which has involved, so far, 230 schools throughout Australia. The Government is also continuing to fund 30 clusters of schools that are best practice in relation to boys' education. We are currently changing the gender equity framework with the States, under which all education is being modelled. We are also examining, very closely, the way in which exams are structured for boys: boys often know the answers to the exam questions, they just don't understand the question which requires a complex level of operational literacy. In addition to that, employing authorities with teachers need to look at performance based pay.
The Sex Discrimination Amendment (Teaching Profession) Bill 2004 is another sensible and important initiative to address a significant problem in Australian education.
Apart from parents, the single most important person in the lives of our children, informing and influencing their development into adults, is teachers, and our boys and our girls need men and women in the classroom.
The relationship between a teacher and a student is like no other relationship in professional life. Teaching is about building character, it's about the development of well rounded human beings and we need, in the classroom, both men and women who bring to that particular task the strengths that are specific to each gender.
There's far too much political correctness in this country, which is strangling common sense. We will do a great disservice to our future if we produce a generation of men who have not ever had a significant male role model in their lives. It's time that we challenged the stereotypes of masculinity that are being paraded to our boys on a daily basis, and move them beyond sporting and musical icons.
In the end, it makes plain common sense for the Catholic Education Commission, or State Governments, to be able to offer scholarships to men who might otherwise chose to go into engineering or science, who might then, on that basis, apply for education and then spend five to ten years teaching in a primary school. We will do a great disservice to our future if we produce a generation of young men who are disengaged, disillusioned, disenfranchised, and have gone from birth to primary school without ever having a man in their lives.
We're now producing a generation of men whose predominant role models have in fact been women in the classroom, instead of men. In 1992, 25.8% of primary school teachers were men. The figure today is 20%. Of the 22,915 students who are currently training to be primary teachers only 18.8% are men. The situation is even more pronounced in early childhood training. Of the 7,115 students enrolled in early childhood teacher education courses only 254 - or 3.6% - are male.
There are a number of reasons why men are not seeing teaching as an attractive career. Firstly, they often feel that they're being undervalued, professionally. Society doesn't place enough value on the status of teaching as a profession. Men also fear accusations of inappropriate behaviour in relation to children. And we're in a vicious cycle: there's such a small number of men in primary school teaching, it is increasingly being seen to be a women's kind of job.
It's time to take significant action, and that's what we're determined to do. It has been suggested that amending the Sexual Discrimination Act in this way creates a risky precedent. The greatest risk that we can take is to do absolutely nothing, or to simply have an incomplete suite of measures in relation to the education of boys. This Government is not prepared to spend the next 10 years hand wringing whilst people are concerned, quite rightly, about getting more men into the classroom.
This article is an edited version of text taken from doorstop statements made by Dr Brendan Nelson, Australian Government Minister for Education, 10 March 2004, and from a joint statement by Dr Nelson and Attorney-General Philip Ruddock, 9 March 2004.