Kiran Meena is the Co-Founder & Head of Content at SchoolMyKids. She is responsible for all day to day activities and handling the content of the platform. Previously Kiran has worked as an Assistant professor of Botany in Hansraj College and Shivaji College, Delhi University. She is a BSc Hons graduate from Hindu College and an MSc Department of Botany from Delhi University. A mother of two adorable kids, Kiran enjoys classical Dance and Art & crafts. She has a senior diploma degree (4 years) in kathak. She also likes making Tanjore, Gold and Clay & ceramic paintings.
Savitribai Phule is credited with being the first teacher in India who being a woman also opened a school for girls in 1848. While being a remarkable example of women’s empowerment from two centuries earlier, it is also a sad commentary on modern recognition being provided to women teachers. For instance, The Rig Veda contains hymns written by twenty-seven women scholars called Brahmavadinis. The prominent ones amongst them were Lopamudra, Ghosha, Gargi, and Maitreyi. These women teachers are sadly relegated to ancient history chapters in textbooks.
Interestingly, women have been increasingly gravitating towards teaching as a profession in modern India. Just last year the number of women, teachers in the Indian schooling system finally exceeded that of men. However, this ratio is skewed by a huge urban bias. In rural India, the representation of women teachers still remains low. Additional areas of concern concerning 49.2 lakh women teachers out of the 96.8 lakh teachers in the country are that many more women teach pre-primary to primary grades (~20.6 lakh) compared to men (~16 lakh). Men teachers outnumber women teachers in the secondary and higher secondary grades.
Most women teachers in India are assumed to be taking up the profession because it is believed to allow them to still take care of household duties. While this may be applicable in many cases – the government, students & their parents, and school owners need to keep in mind that woman teachers are not made to work more than the legitimate work hours. Teachers are often burdened with numerous additional duties and after-work tasks like homework correction and test paper setting. These extras thus stretch the teacher’s days from early morning school start to normal office hours end time.
Teacher pay is another sore point faced by the entire teaching community and especially women teachers. Teachers while playing the important and critical role of shaping young minds into the next generation of leaders never receive an adequate level of monetary support. This situation gets further exploited in the case of women teachers as they are generally believed to be supplementing the family income and are thus not the chief bread earner. They are thus not able to adequately negotiate for their pay. This chiefly happens in private education institutes, which form the majority of the urban education scenario.
Women teachers’ pay also gets impacted in urban scenarios due to the attractiveness of the profession. This thus enables institute owners to take a cavalier attitude towards not treating teachers as long-term assets and thus compensating them at a lower scale.
The belief that most women teachers are not able to manage senior grades is another perception stereotype that they constantly face. It is believed that boys and girls in senior grades are more mischievous and difficult to the discipline of motivating for women teachers. This hampers the professional growth of women teachers, as they are not given the opportunity easily. This factor also influences their voice in school administration as senior class teachers are given more weightage.
It is also believed that women are not as proficient in STEM subjects as men are and thus not able to teach them as well either. This is another limiting perception in their career graph. Women teachers need to be judged on their individual capacity and not by generically held beliefs.
The nurturing capability of women also at times goes against the professional advancement of women teachers. It is believed that younger wards require a more nurturing environment and thus women teachers are encouraged to stay in that role.
Women are also the chief caregivers for their families. They are thus expected to step in and take leaves to care for any ailing family member. This situation is more serious to women in the teaching profession compared to women in other careers. The reason being that teaching is generally taken by society as a lighter and not as serious a profession. The family and societal pressure play havoc with women teachers’ peace of mind and their ability to contribute wholeheartedly to their teaching profession. The extra leaves are taken to manage this situation do them no favour either.
Society expects women to always dress to the maximum. While a male teaching colleague may wear the same simple clothes every day, a woman needs to turn up for the job. This is especially true in the metros and creates an additional expense and time requirement on the part of women teachers.
In rural scenarios, women’s teacher numbers are also lower because of societal attitudes. Taking knowledge instructions/teachings from women is not easily palatable and thus their capability is also questioned. This along with the remote locations of schools, being the sole teacher in the school, lack of proper women-centric facilities in rural schools, and limited transport availability, etc. enhances the problems faced. For example, a UNESCO reports points out that most of the aspirational districts in Northeast have a higher percentage of single-teacher schools compared to the rest of the states. The report additionally says that the percentage of women teachers in these districts is much lower than the national representation of 50%. Separate toilet facilities for males and females are also lacking in addition to lack of electricity. All these factors have an impact on a woman teacher’s sense of wellbeing and security.
An earlier study conducted in the state of Kerala, which has the highest literacy rate; found that among the personal problems faced by women teachers health-related problems are more prevalent. The majority of the respondents skipped breakfast daily, and did not get time for simple exercises, relaxation, and were unable to engage in any recreation activities. (“ERIC – ED506244 – Problems of Female School Teachers in …”). Most of them did not even get time to read newspapers daily. The majority of teachers at the higher secondary section opined that wearing a saree is inconvenient for teaching.
Nevertheless, the increasing number of women teachers needs to be appreciated and encouraged. The urban-rural bias and the higher vs. lower grade bias gave the current trends are likely to be mitigated in due time. What is more urgent is the need to ensure that with women’s preference for teaching as a vocation they are not given short shrift professionally. I welcome feedback from readers on how the education sector can be enabled to take better care of their most important asset – the teachers and especially women teachers.