The number of male teachers in a particular elementary school in Cheongju was only 5 among 62 teachers last year. Since then, three male teachers transferred to another region at one go at the new semester; therefore, only two male teachers remain. This is, unfortunately, not a unique problem to only this school. Now, it is common not to meet even one male homeroom teacher, where students spend six years in their elementary schools.
It is confirmed that the gender imbalance is more distinct via statistics. The Korean government generates basic statistics of current national education on April 1st of every year. According to the latest statistics, the number of teachers in elementary, middle, and high schools in the nation was 428,404. It increased by 10.3% (39,907) compared to 388,497 in 2006 which was ten years ago. The number of female teachers among the stated total increased by 23.4% from 231,221 to 285,411; however, in contrast, the number of male teachers decreased by 9.1% from 157,276 to 142,993.
The female ratio of elementary, middle, and high school teachers increased by 7.1% points from 59.5% in 2006 to 66.6% this year. The gender imbalance of elementary school teachers is much more conspicuous. The number of total elementary school teachers was 183,452 in April this year, whereas the number of female teachers among them was 141,248 which accounted for 77.0% of the whole. That means, now in most elementary schools, about 7.7 out of 10 persons are female teachers.
So, is it a problem that there are more female teachers in elementary schools? Some education experts agree that the gender imbalance in teaching is not desirable. In an interview with Yonhap News Agency in Seoul, Kim Dong-seok, the spokesperson of the Korea Federation of Teachers’ Association, said, “We need to arrange various plans to induce excellent male talent to our schools because the imbalanced gender ratio of teachers cannot let growing students recognize different gender roles correctly.”
It is true that many parents have the same worries about the imbalance and want more male teachers for their children. Furthermore, a principal of an elementary school in Seoul said something similar to this in the column he contributed to the Chosun Ilbo under the title Parents want male teachers, where he lamented, “As male teachers were precious, a neologism of ‘natural monument’ was created in the school. Now parents say that they win the lottery if their child’s homeroom teacher is a man. I’m regretful that although I am asked to run the school focusing on the demands of parents, I cannot fully accept the demand of parents who want male teachers.”
However, not everybody worries about this phenomenon. Some people argue that they cannot understand why the gender ratio of teachers matters. They insist that it is still controversial whether too many female teachers produce any bad influences on young students or not. Related studies show that there were no notable differences in the gender ratio of teachers and students’ academic achievements. While there are widespread commentary and opinion on the assumed need for male role models, there has been relatively little systematic research on this matter until recently.
Furthermore, some argue that the gender imbalance in teaching is a global phenomenon and is firmly rooted in issues relating to the position of women in societies. They point out that while women teachers overwhelmingly dominate pre-school and primary education worldwide, the higher up the hierarchical level of the education system one goes, the fewer women there are. Park In-hye, the former co-president of Korea Women’s Hot Line, said “Korean society is still male-oriented and male-dominant. Men occupy the overwhelming majority of other workplaces.” She insisted that people need to question this before blaming the issue of having a few more female teachers in elementary schools.
While the issue is still clouded in controversy, educational authorities are failing to come up with a bright idea on the imbalanced gender ratio in teaching. To recruit more male teachers, national universities of education, which prepare elementary school teachers, have been implementing regulations to restrict the gender ratio for certain genders not to exceed a certain portion. However, the limit acts just like the Maginot Line, and it couldn’t become the key measure to resolve the imbalanced ratio. The introduction of the male teacher quota system brought forward by some experts proved to be an unworkable proposition because of the reverse discrimination issue.
Experts predict that the phenomenon of the gender ratio imbalance in teaching will intensify in the future. People who think it is a problem will keep insisting that a long-term plan should be established in order to secure a certain portion of male primary school teachers. On the other side of the debate, some will keep questioning whether we need to correct the phenomena intentionally. The heated controversy over the imbalanced gender ratio of teachers is expected to continue, until we achieve a social consensus on this issue.
김도훈 기자 firstname.lastname@example.org