WhyItMatters

Diversity in teaching force

The vast majority of teachers across the world are women. Similarly, women have consistently made up about 70 per cent of the teaching force in Singapore over the years.

The disparity is most stark in the younger years of schooling, when the job typically calls for more "caregiving" and "nurturing".

Of 191 primary schools last year, three-quarters had women principals. Similarly, more than 80 per cent of the nearly 15,000 teachers in primary schools were women.

The numbers were less skewed when it came to teaching older students: Women made up about 60 per cent or more of teachers in secondary schools and junior colleges here, and some 50 per cent to 60 per cent of principals at those levels.

Some countries, such as Britain and Australia, are grappling with gender imbalances in teaching, and asking whether the shortage of male teachers in primary schools affects the academic performances of boys. But research is not conclusive on the link, and here grades are not a concern. Rather, a more gender-balanced pool of teachers can have benefits for primary school pupils who are the most impressionable.

Male teachers complement their female counterparts by bringing different perspectives and ideas. They can also serve as stable role models and mentors to their students.Being exposed to teachers from more diverse backgrounds, not just in gender but in ethnicity, can help students broaden their understanding of issues in society.

Ultimately, it is the best man, or woman, for the job. The best teacher is not defined by gender. But in a world that is increasingly diverse and open, it is important to challenge stereotypes that persist.

And for most children, the school grounds would be their first encounter with society outside their homes and families.

It would do well for them to see what is possible outside and beyond traditional gender roles.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 14, 2017, with the headline 'Diversity in teaching force'. Print Edition | Subscribe