The UN General Assembly met last month to mark the halfway point of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and called for urgent accelerated progress to meet these goals by 2030.
Neither SDG 4 (education for all) nor SDG 5 (gender equality) are on track to meet their targets. Without additional measures, approximately 300 million students will lack basic numeracy and literacy skills necessary for success in life.
Teaching and learning contexts matter to ensure girls and boys have an equal chance to make the most of their experience in school or non-formal learning environments.
There are many opportunities beyond enrolment to promote gender equality within schools as well as teaching and learning practices. This reflects the approach GPE is taking to ensure gender equality principles are embedded in access to, within and through education systems in order to transform them (see our recently published paper).
A growing body of research underlines the critical role teachers and school leaders play in creating inclusive learning environments as well as the importance of a diverse teaching force in supporting the next generation to see beyond gender stereotypes and discriminatory norms, both in their classrooms and communities.
Here we highlight 3 evidence-informed steps critical to the role teachers can play in achieving gender equality in education:
- Increase the number of female teachers
- Adapt pedagogy to be gender-responsive
- Train teachers to prevent and respond to school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV).
Increasing the number of female teachers
Gender norms have a meaningful impact on the number of teachers and school leaders within the education workforce. Significant imbalances of male to female teacher ratios exist in many contexts, even at the primary school level, due in part to historic patterns of poor educational opportunities for girls.
In other contexts, this imbalance is characterized as a drop in female teachers at the secondary level and females in school leadership positions.
In many sub-Saharan African countries, for example, female teachers remain underrepresented due to barriers to employment, retention and promotion. In Benin and Côte d’Ivoire, women make up only 12% and 15% of secondary teachers respectively.
Furthermore, female teachers are often cautious about working in rural areas due to poor housing, the lack of sanitary facilities and insecurity in homes and schools.
Still, evidence suggests that senior female teachers and female principals can improve education quality through leadership and direct teaching roles:
- Female school leaders excel at tracking and encouraging better teacher attendance and creating supportive environments for teachers (UNICEF, 2022).
- Female school leaders foster learning environments that actively engage students, encouraging teachers to check students’ work, assign homework and teach until all students achieve mastery (UNICEF, 2019).
- Female role models in school increase girls’ confidence in their abilities (UNGEI, 2016), and having such confidence can raise girls’ interest in fields like math and science, where stereotypes are commonly held about girls’ abilities (CGDEV, 2019).
- Research from West and Central Africa indicates that female-led schools were more likely to engage and encourage parents to support students’ attendance, academic performance and behavior (UNICEF, 2022).