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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
ISSN: 1448-0743
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Gender or quality?

Heather Smith
Heather Smith was a journalist in the Marketing and Public Relations unit of the University of Southern Queensland at the time of writing this story, but has now moved to the UK to further her journalism career.

The education system should not employ more male teachers at the expense of talented women. That's the view of the Dean of the Faculty of Education at the University of Southern Queensland, Professor Frank Crowther.

'A student's intellectual, social and personal development is influenced more by the quality of teaching than by factors such as gender, age, ethnicity or religion of the teacher,' Professor Crowther says. Despite ongoing concerns about the diminishing number of male teachers in the profession, Professor Crowther said the core issue remains the quality of teaching and the positive outcomes for students. 'Educational development is the major responsibility of the school, and you can't sacrifice that by introducing criteria which may reduce the quality of teaching.'

Professor Crowther has questioned any new policy that challenged the law prohibiting employing teachers on the basis of gender. He says such a policy could be more harmful than beneficial if it resulted in a reduction of creative and talented teachers.

'At USQ our concern is not whether there are enough male graduates, but whether our graduates are equipped with the skills and knowledge to positively impact on the students they teach in a complex, knowledge society.'

According to Professor Crowther, the education system, including Faculties of Education, has done a poor job in managing some of the issues associated with the dwindling supply of male teachers, particularly in terms of promoting the rewards of a teaching career to men.

On the local scene (in Queensland), most Toowoomba primary schools have an imbalance of male to female teachers, but this is not an insurmountable obstacle, Professor Crowther says. 'Male teachers are often highly visible in schools and do act as positive role models. Many schools have also introduced programs such as family days and father-to-son days, which aim to create constructive relationships involving adult males.'

Currently, fifteen per cent of primary school teachers in Australia are male compared to forty per cent in the 1960s. Professor Crowther says the shift is largely the result of the profession being marginalised for more than thirty years. He says teaching as a career had diminished in status, especially between the 1970s and 1990s, when teachers' work became less valued than curricula, administration and policy processes.

'By the early 1990s, teaching as a profession had been reduced in its political influence, its public image and its ascribed status. Public opinion surveys of the time recorded a sharp decline in the pubic image of teaching as a profession, and in teachers' own sense of professional esteem.'

He says reports of child abuse also discouraged males from pursuing a teaching career, particularly in primary schools. According to Professor Crowther, the status of teaching is now improving dramatically, and USQ is attracting increasing numbers of highly talented students. 'We will continue to strive for quality of teaching and education, rather than any particular mix of male and female students. Only then will we get the best education for young Australians.'

This article was originally published in USQ News, September 2003.

KLA

Subject Headings

Boys' education
Female teachers
Male teachers
Primary education
Teacher training
Teacher-student relationships
Teachers' employment
Teaching and learning
Teaching profession