According to new research from Macquarie University, over the last 50 years fewer male teachers have been filtering into Australian schools – and ABS data trends paint a grim picture of what’s ahead.
Senior Lecturer Dr Penny Van Bergen, who launched the research published in Economics of Education Review alongside lead author Kevin McGrath, found that by the year 2067 primary schools will be devoid of male teachers. For government schools, 2054 will mark their disappearance.
“I think what we were surprised by was that it had been such a steady decline over time, normally when you’re looking at data for almost anything, there’s a lot of ‘noise’ in the data, and for this there wasn’t anything; it was just straight down for 40 or 50 years,” Van Bergen tells Australian Teacher Magazine.
While sectors like engineering and business are busy devising schemes to attract more females into the profession, Van Bergen says these findings throw up an unusual case of gender imbalance in the workplace.
“I think because there is that awareness that women are often under-represented and, colloquially put, women often end up with the short end of the stick. I think it’s easy perhaps to assume that when the flip happens to be the other way, as it is in teaching, then maybe it’s not such an issue,” she suggests.
Claiming to be the first ever study to track the trajectory of male teachers in a specific country across all sectors, Van Bergen says it’s quite obvious the decline has progressed without fanfare.
In 1977, around 28.5 per cent of teachers in primary schools across the country were male. That figure now stands at about 18 per cent, the findings show.
Perpetuating gender stereotypes, Van Bergen believes, could certainly be at play.
“Here there is no active discrimination, and so that part of it is not an issue, but still we do see men suffering through this idea that [teaching] has to be womens’ work.
“Those sorts of pressures are fairly insidious and they do eat away [at us] and we do see men turning to careers that are seen as being more ‘manly’.
“So … the more that teaching is seen as something that women do, the less likely we will see young guys, in particular, going into it.”
Van Bergen says we should work to rectify the staff gender slide in schools.
“We want a representative workforce where the teachers in schools reflect the society more generally.”
“There may be need for things like scholarships that target men coming out of schools – they’ve been successful in other industries like engineering where there are a lot of women scholarship schemes…”
She points out that current laws tied to education which forbid incentive schemes offered exclusively to males need to be re-worked. And quickly.
“All of those laws, that are well-meant laws, sometimes have a sting in their tail.