Photo Credit: UNICEF
The recruitment of women teachers is an issue that has become increasingly important to Ministries of Education, NGOs and other agencies supporting educational development. This is particularly so because of the impact women teachers can have on girls’ enrollment. The need to increase girls’ enrollment is an important reason for giving greater policy and programming attention to women teachers, but it should not be the only reason. Beyond recruitment strategies, there are other issues which have to be addressed if women are going to be empowered in their roles as teachers. These include the lived experiences of women teachers in schools, the accessibility and relevance of teacher training, and both professional and career development opportunities for women. From gender equality perspective, empowering women as teachers is critical to ensuring that the experience of being a teacher is a positive one for them, and that their work has a sustained impact on gender relations in the community and in society, at large. We need to support and encourage women to be effective and inspiring teachers for girls and boys.
There are different reasons for the generally positive relationships between girls’ enrollment and women teachers: In some conservative communities, parents will not allow their daughters to be taught by a male teacher. This is the case in some communities. The placement of a woman teacher, therefore, can have an immediate impact on access. The presence of women in schools can also impact positively on girls’ retention in school and on their achievement. Studies have shown a positive impact from women teachers on girls’ (and boys’) achievement. A female role model can support and encourage girls to successfully complete their studies and maybe even continue studying to become teachers, themselves. She can also be there to listen to any problems and provide guidance when necessary. In schools where girls are in the minority, especially, the presence of one or more female teacher may also ensure protection for girls from unwanted attention from boys or male teachers, and even from sexual abuse and exploitation. At the school policy level, women teachers may act as advocates for girls, representing their perspectives and needs, and promoting more girl-friendly learning. For example, women teachers may be able to advocate for better toilet and washing facilities. These are of particular importance to adolescent girls who are menstruating, and whose active participation in school during their monthly periods may depend on access to clean toilets separate from those used by boys and a water supply. In terms of menstruation, puberty, sex and reproductive health education, women teachers have an important role to play in providing girls in school with accurate information about their own bodies and how to look after them. Women teachers provide new and different role models for girls especially those in rural and conservative communities. They point to possibilities for women to be active outside the home and to be agents in community development. They play key roles in educating and socializing children beyond gender stereotypes, and so are crucial agents of change.
Various reports showed that deployment of female teachers to communities would not only increase girls’ enrollment in schools but also would help to develop a positive attitude in most communities towards girls’ education. The deployment patterns also have implications for gender equity. Female teachers may be even less willing to accept a rural posting than their male counterparts, and rural areas may have fewer female teachers than urban areas. In some cases posting single women to unfamiliar areas may cause cultural difficulties, and may even be unsafe. Besides, the community might not easily accept an outsider especially when she was a woman especially of another culture/ religion. A single woman residing outside the home in their view is not a socially welcome person, a bad or immoral woman. They look upon such a woman as a bad example and a mark of disrepute. They are afraid that such a woman would break social norms and values. For some unmarried women, posting to an isolated rural area may also be seen to limit marriage prospects. For married women, a rural posting may mean separation from her family, as the husband may not move for cultural or economic reasons; because of patriarchy she does not have the power to insist on her husband ‘following her to relocate to the rural school’. Where women have been posted to rural areas they may come to see themselves as having been treated unfairly by the system and thus seek early transfers so that their marriages continues without infidelity and strains. Lack of residential facility and security discouraged female teachers to live in the community. If the community did not welcome a female teacher it would be difficult for her to adjust in the community as opposed to male teachers. Some female teachers have family problems – household responsibility, young children’s responsibility, sick or challenged children/parents and could not afford to stay away from them. Even the cost of running two homes will defeat the aim of working on both the short and long run terms.
Most primary schools lack adequate furniture and space for women teachers to relax especially with babies when they are off duty. There are no separate toilets for girls and women in the majority of primary schools in rural areas. Drinking water is also an issue in these schools although the extent of the problem varies for different communities. The absence of basic facilities can have serious implications because teaching time and motivation may decrease when women teachers have to go to somebody’s house or to a distant place to use sanitary facilities. In addition, the lack of ready access to health services in case of emergency is also a problem for women teachers who most times move with children; who also need natal and post natal care. If the teacher happens to be a young mother, the absence of child-care facilities in or near schools adds to the list of problems. Socio-cultural factors and gender discrimination have also emerged as problems; religious restrictions sometimes interfere with discharging their duties in rural primary schools. Family expectations and household responsibilities also make it difficult for women teachers to devote any time for preparation at home. The environment in schools is not always very friendly to women or gender sensitive. This environment affects their functioning adversely. They also do not always receive support from the community and face a lack of understanding concerning their problems. There have also been cases of female teachers raped on their way through lonely roads to rural schools.
Investing in Female teachers redeployment
Policy makers have tried a number of strategies to redress the imbalances in teacher deployment. The main strategies tried ranged from Incentives, Forced deployment, to Targeted recruitment etc and all without a human face have negative implications for female teachers. There is a need to develop deployment policies that ensure sufficient female teachers in remote schools. Successful strategies seem likely to require a combination of accurate information about deployment, and gender. Some of the promising options include:
1) The recruitment of local female teachers Combined with in-service training delivered through distance education, this means that a local person can become a teacher without ever living away from the area. It seems likely that this will help to grow a stable teaching force in rural areas. 2) Requiring newly qualified female teachers to serve some time in remote schools before taking up an urban job has some promise. If combined with a system of scholarships for teacher training, this may provide a channel for people from poor rural backgrounds to complete teacher training and return to their home areas. 3) Policies that recognize the human preferences in deployment also offer some promise. Some teachers may be more willing to move to their home area, than to other rural areas. Even posting newly qualified teachers with a classmate may help the newcomers to settle into an area. Also married couples that are both teachers should be redeployed to the same area possibly to different schools. 4) Incentives can have an impact, but they need to be substantial to outweigh the advantages of an urban location. To get the best value from incentives, they need to be carefully targeted on the most remote schools.5) Policy makers can also reduce the relative disadvantage of a rural location by ensuring that administrative processes do not discriminate against remote schools. Efficient systems of payment (including awarding of increments) and equal access to opportunities for further study, transfer and promotion can reduce the disincentive to locate in a rural area.6)Give female teachers who comes from a long distance in nearby semi- urban towns the first and last period off so that she can adjust her travel time without hampering the class.7)Government should hold forums with female teachers’ spouses/ family representative after redeployment posting is out, to conscientize them and win their patriotism.8)Build adequate secured accommodation, and provide basic facilities in the remote areas especially transportation, health care and electricity.
9) School Based Management Committees SBMCs should mobilize their community gate keepers on the importance of retaining redeployed female teachers. Meeting with them to solicit their help in providing redeployed female teachers with enabling environment: obvious acceptance, Accommodation, Health care aids(e.g. mosquito nets), security, Transport (even a designated motor bike) and Allowances etc.
10) Communities should hold Town Hall Forums with new female teachers: a safe space for them to ask questions and get commitments on issues of cultures, religion, languages, job expectations, security etc. This will also serve the purpose of Rural Post Induction.
by Uchenna Idoko