Is it important for a male student to be taught by a male teacher? Or a Chinese student to have a Chinese teacher? How about a Christian student being taught only in a convent?
Researchers argue that your teacher’s gender, race and identity can affect your learning significantly.
That is, the more your teacher is like you, the more successfully you will learn in school.
Here are two reasons why.
Students from minority groups might benefit from seeing someone of their group in a position of authority. This helps to break the perception that only those from a certain group are capable of leading and succeeding.
In the US, research has found that African-American females being taught by African-American female teachers tend to think more of going to college.
Deeper Cultural Understanding
A teacher who shares the same cultural background as their student could result in a stronger bond between them, thus making teaching easier.
That is because the teacher is likely to develop culturally relevant curricula, including explaining broad topics in a culturally-relevant way.
Other Factors Matter Too
Some disagree that a teacher’s profile is responsible for a good student.
They argue that it is not the social identity of a teacher that matters. They are quick to point out Asian students in other non-Asian countries who excel despite not having a teacher of their own ethnicity.
Critics also warn of the stigma that could emerge from this thinking – such as suggesting that only those with the same identities as their students can teach them effectively.
In fact, research shows that many things contribute equally to a student’s achievement.
For instance, the natural intelligence of the child, their study habits, school and family environment, and the teacher’s own experience.
Greater Teacher Diversity Needed
Despite significant research supporting greater diversity in teachers, there is still a lack in two large areas.
In Asia-Pacific, the lack of gender diversity is a big problem.
While there is balance among male and female teachers in countries such as Indonesia and Cambodia, in others such as Sri Lanka, female teachers outnumber male ones.
In Singapore, majority of primary schools have women principals. As for teachers, over 70% of them are women.
Fewer male teachers means a greater lack of role models in the classroom for boys.
Yet research shows that boys need this more, as they are more influenced than girls by these positive influences.
Gender aside, race is another issue. In the US for example, Caucasians make up over 80% of teachers.
While schools practise diversity recruitment, the process leans towards two largest communities of coloured people – the African-Americans and Hispanics.
Asians teachers were often under-represented – only 65,000 of nearly 3.4 million teachers are Asians.
Lack of Teachers an Existing Problem
Whichever side you are on though, it is tough to even ensure there are enough teachers for all.
Already, in urban areas, there is an oversupply of teachers, and a shortage in rural areas.
In Mongolia, over 70% of schools are in rural areas, but there is almost no incentive for teachers to teach there.
So even before ensuring a teacher-student match, authorities face an urgent task to facilitate a more equitable distribution of teachers.
In Indonesia, efforts have been made to improve distribution issues, including incentives to work in remote areas. However, a great divide still exists in the country.
Deployment issues aside, when there is greater scrutiny of a teacher’s profile, observers say the recruitment of teachers will only get trickier.
While institutions would agree on selecting candidates based on interviews and tests, there is still no blueprint on how to integrate factors of gender, race, identity and beliefs.
What’s the Way Forward?
For the moment, the UN is working to get at least gender-matching right.
It aims to eliminate all gender disparities in education by 2030. In 2015, it outlined a set of gender-sensitive policies, and added gender-issues to teacher-training guidelines.
Around the world, 263 million are not in school. But for countless others, education remains a door to a brighter future, where the teacher holds the key.
Do you agree? Think about your favourite teacher. How were you influenced by that person? Was he or she anything like you?