Koh Lay Chin
KUALA LUMPUR: Male teachers in Malaysia are going the way of the dinosaur.
Educationists predict that male teachers will be extinct in 20 years' time if the decline in the number of men in the teaching profession is not checked.
With women teachers now outnumbering men four to one, the imbalance looks set to worsen.
Educators interviewed by the New Sunday Times unanimously agreed that male teachers would no longer be around in two decades.
They said the number of men in the profession has noticeably declined through the years.
Three decades ago, men were a formidable presence in classrooms but now it is not uncommon to have fewer than five male teachers in one school.
"It is a losing battle," said Sultan Idris University of Education (UPSI) vice-chancellor Prof Datuk Dr Aminah Ayob.
Her university, which produces about 3,500 teachers a year for secondary schools, is desperately trying to reduce the male-female imbalance among trainee teachers.
Concerted efforts were made in 2007 to attract more men but the 70:30 female to male trainee teacher ratio persisted last year and worsened to 72:28 this year.
"I have voiced my concern to the Higher Education Ministry and even suggested introducing a quota, but they disagreed and said enrolment had to be based on merit. If we cannot beat the system, I suppose we just have to accept it."
Deputy Education Minister Datuk Wee Ka Siong said the situation was dire and acknowledged that it could worsen.
Some schools now have to contend with a 90:10 female to male teacher ratio.
He said the ministry wanted more male role models for pupils but admitted it was difficult to tilt the balance.
"The numbers applying for and successfully becoming teachers mirror the gender imbalance of undergraduates in the institutions of higher learning.
"Two-thirds of our graduates are female. When there is an imbalance at the source, the number of men becoming teachers will reflect that."
Wee said it did not help that many had an impression that teaching was a lowly paid profession.
"It is quite rewarding to be a teacher. A DG41 graduate teacher can now easily earn RM2,600 (S$1,064) a month, something not easy for a fresh graduate to get elsewhere these days," Wee said.
Male teachers, said men, shunned the profession for several reasons.
Mainly they think women are better-suited because it involved
children. Other factors going against it are low pay compared with the private sector, stress and too much paperwork.
Benny Chew (not his real name), a primary school teacher, said the stereotype of teachers as "having too much work" and "being mostly women" was now so entrenched that men were shunning the
"A teacher's burden is just too heavy these days too. Compare teaching with others in the civil service. Teachers have to work five days a week, sometimes even six or seven days, no thanks to courses and other activities. It is unfair," he said.
Feisal Othman (not his real name) said he expected the situation to worsen, especially with the changes in policy.
"We are already bracing for more paperwork. We will be spending more time on administrative matters instead of teaching, which is ridiculous."
He said his female colleagues were more patient and better able to deal with the pressures of the job.
"They also have a maternal, nurturing instinct, which men lack."
Does it matter whether a teacher is male of female?
Some argue that having men in the profession was imperative as they were better disciplinarians and made better physical education teachers.
Much has been said about women teachers who sit under the shade of a tree and giving instructions to pupils during PE classes.
Aminah said countries like Vietnam, Thailand, Hong Kong and even the United States, all faced a similar male-female teacher imbalance, though the issue was not a matter of concern.
"They accept it. We were at an international conference in Hong Kong and this issue was discussed. Many educators from other countries spoke up and said it was acceptable.
"Women make good teachers, they said, and we do not necessarily need male teachers to discipline pupils."
Wee disagreed. He said the prospect of future pupils being exposed only to female teachers was rather alarming.
"We have to try to do something and hope more men will be willing to join the profession."
What is also declining in tandem with male teachers is the number of non-Malay teachers.
According to the Education Ministry, this is because of a
scarcity in applications. It has dwindled to such an extent
that only 20.5 per cent of primary and secondary schools are headed by non-Malay headmasters or principals.
Of the 3,500 graduates from UPSI each year, only a fifth are
Bring back the glamour to teaching
KUALA LUMPUR: Teacher-training institutions should relax their intake requirements in order to get more men into the teaching profession.
This was one of the suggestions to arrest the declining number of male teachers. Others include making the profession more attractive by increasing pay and incentives, and reducing teacher workload.
But educators stressed that unless the profession regained its respectability in the eyes of the public, it would be difficult to attract men, and even women, to become teachers.
Teacher Audrey Joseph (not her real name) said the profession was no longer as highly regarded as it was before.
"This is the main problem. Those days, people would say 'If you don't study, you will become a rubbish collector but now, rubbish collector has been substituted with 'teacher'."
National Union of Teaching Profession secretary-general Lok Yim Pheng said many men do not want to become teachers because they found the job unattractive.
"The heavy workload is one of the factors and opportunities to move up the ladder are limited. For example, up to 200 qualified teachers can be vying for the same vacancy, so they feel the chances of getting it are slim."
But, she added, the situation had improved since last year when the Education Ministry created posts such as specialist and excellent teachers in a move to make the profession more attractive.
Hashiki Hashim said teacher training institutions should be more accommodating where male applicants were concerned.
"At present, they are too stringent. As their selection is based largely on academic achievement, this effectively means more women will be taken in as their results are often better than the men.
"What is more important is passion and dedication. If a man wants to teach, he should be taken in, even if his results may not be as good as a female applicant."
It has been reported that most of the men who were interested often did not have the minimum qualification of a cumulative grade point average of 2.75.
DAP parliamentary spokesperson on education Chong Eng contended, however, that many candidates qualified on paper but were rejected. -NST