Why Africa’s Schools Aren’t Recruiting More Female Teachers

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In the United States, the persistence of K-12 teaching as a predominantly female profession is sometimes lamented as a sign that certain workforce gender conventions prevail. In fact, things may be heading backwards: About 76 percentof the country’s teachers today are women, according to federal data, compared to 67 percent of them in the early 1980s.

This phenomenon may in part explain why schools across the country are struggling to recruit and retain effective educators, The New York Times’ Motoko Rich reported last September. “Jobs dominated by women pay less on average than those with higher proportions of men, and studies have shown that these careers tend to enjoy less prestige as well,” she wrote. If more men entered the teaching profession perhaps that would elevate its status and ultimately help solve public education’s staffing issues.

Interestingly, the relatively low status of women in many African countries—coupled with the relatively high status of teaching there—helps explain why the region struggles with the opposite gender-distribution problem. Throughout much of the African continent, and most strikingly in West Africa, females are underrepresented in the teaching profession, accounting for 20 percent or fewer of the primary-school educators in half a dozen countries including Liberia, Togo, and the Central African Republic.

World Bank data from 2011 indicates that Africa is the only continent where female underrepresentation in the teaching force is common; a majority of the 137 countries included in the dataset have majority-female primary-school teaching forces, and virtually all of the 32 nations where that isn’t the case are in Africa. The World Bank lacks such data for dozens of countries overall, so it’s hard to ascertain representative statistics for the entire continent.

Africa’s majority-male teaching forces are just as problematic as the West’s majority-female ones in that they distort public perception of the profession and undermine the educational outcomes of the children they’re supposed to serve. Ultimately, these statistics offer an opportunity to explore imbalances in education—and the role they play in stymieing socioeconomic progress—in developed and developing regions alike.

The shortage of women teachers in Africa is well-established. The percentage of girls who complete primary school is lower in African countries than in any other region in the world, and this greatly constrains the pool of candidates for the profession; one needs to be educated in order to teach. But teaching opportunities can be limited even for educated women, as a 2013 report on the teachers’ situation in Northern Uganda explained, because men have easier access to training opportunities and because of gender bias in job postings and promotion procedures.

The barriers that limit girls’ access to education range from gender stigmas to cultural and social customs to widespread poverty, according to Nkechi Agwu, a Nigerian mathematician who teaches at CUNY’s Borough of Manhattan Community College. Throughout much of the region, public education isn’t free, and families with limited means often have to be selective with which of their children they send to school. Other obstacles have to do with convention: “Even though the world is global,” Agwu said, “some of these cultural things are very entrenched. The female can always find a richer man who can marry her and take care of her—the male needs to be the head of a household.” Safety is also a huge factor, according to Agwu, especially if a child has to travel a long way to get to school. “The consequence is that you are recycling the same issues over and over again if young children keep seeing … males as their teachers, seeing [fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][teaching] as not being a profession for women.”

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