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China’s teacher training programs churn out far more women than men, a gender imbalance that causes many female students to experience discrimination in the job market. In a 2016 report on graduate employment, East China Normal University’s teacher training college — one of the best in the country — revealed that its class of 2016 had a male to female ratio of 1 to 2.06.
In dire need of male staff, many schools favor male graduates when hiring season comes around. “It’s harder for female graduates of teacher’s colleges to find work than for male graduates,” says Wu Yanrong, a female student teacher at Zhejiang Normal University (ZNU). Currently in her junior year, Wu says that at a recent job fair in Jinhua, a city in eastern China’s Zhejiang province, she saw a school recruitment officer refuse a female student’s résumé because they had “filled their quota,” only to then accept a resume from a male applicant.
Application requirements of individual schools also differ by gender. This year, Yu says, a Jinhua-based high school informed would-be applicants that female students must be in the top 30 percent of their class, while male students have no grades requirements. More schools give male applicants preferential consideration in the final decision-making stage. “If you’re looking for work, there’s nothing worse than going up against a man,” says Yu, a senior student of ideology and politics at ZNU who only gave her surname. “If you’re up against another woman, you just need to get better grades, but if I’m up against a man, all I can do is pray the school’s requirements for male teachers aren’t too low.”
According to the Ministry of Education, the proportion of female teachers at the elementary, middle, and high school levels has grown steadily since 2010, and 2014 marked the first time that female teachers outnumbered their male counterparts at all levels, from primary to high schools, in China. In preschools, the percentage of female teachers consistently hovers at around 97 percent.
The gender imbalance is even more apparent in the countryside and is discussed frequently at China’s major political meetings. One representative, Yang Juanjuan, the head of a village committee in Xinhua County of central China’s Hunan province, found that just 18 percent of local teachers under the age of 35 were men. That ratio has come down to 12 percent among teachers recruited since 2014.
There is a consensus among educators and parents that a lack of male teachers on campus has a negative impact on students’ development. This is especially true for elementary schools, as this period plays a crucial role in shaping a child’s character. In China, the theory states that if students lack exposure to perceived “male attributes,” like firmness and bravery, male students will more likely to become “soft” and feminine. Others argue that it is inaccurate to link a child’s character to a lack of male teachers. After all, families play a much larger role than schools in developing a child’s moral character.
Regardless of the effects on children, the shortage of male students at teacher’s colleges is already hindering the job prospects of their female counterparts. Yu gained first-hand experience of this during a recent internship, when two of her fellow interns applied for the same teaching job. Both were geography majors: One was a female graduate of a top university who had won two competitive scholarships and studied abroad; the other was an mediocre male graduate of an unexceptional teacher’s college. While the female student’s classroom performance was superior to that of the male student, the school chose to hire the male applicant.
Gender stereotypes contribute to another reason why schools prefer to hire men. Most Chinese schools conduct nightly self-study classes and require teachers to stay after hours and chaperone the students. Male teachers are more likely to supervise these sessions, partly because their female counterparts are more likely to go home and take care of their families in the evening.
China needs to encourage more men to take up teaching. Ding Gang is the dean of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Education at East China Normal University. In 2012, he helped carry out a survey of the country’s teacher training programs, the first academic study of its kind. After surveying nearly 10,000 people in 27 different teacher’s colleges, he found that women comprised 65 percent of total student population.
Although there have long been proposals on the table to bring more men into the classrooms — including offers of higher pay for male teachers — none have addressed the gender imbalance. “I don’t want to be a teacher, especially at a public school,” says Lan Kun, a graduate of ZNU’s ideology and politics program who now works as a private tutor. He believes the social standing of male teachers is too low and notes that most parents hope their sons will become public servants or managers at private companies. “For me, the most important reason is that working as a teacher isn’t challenging enough. Once you take the job, you know exactly when you’ll be able to retire and you can calculate exactly how much money you’ll make your whole life,” he said. Based on his experience at job fairs, Lan has also noticed that while public schools offer job stability, annual salaries generally fall in between 80,000 and 120,000 yuan ($12,000 to $18,000), though wages vary significantly by region, school, and position.
In order to convince outstanding young men to enroll in teacher’s colleges, we must make teaching a more attractive profession, depicting it as a well-paid, intellectually challenging alternative to traditionally “male” industries. Until such reforms take place, schools will struggle to cast off their reputations of being female-dominated zones, and the gender discrimination faced by female graduates of China’s teacher’s colleges is likely to get worse.