Chu Hoang Tung’s parents were very surprised to see a man teaching their son’s class when Tung entered the fifth grade at Le Ngoc Han Primary School.
Tung’s mother Nguyen Thi Thoa says she had never seen a male primary school teacher when her older daughter, now a university student, was in school.
But, she said, “My son’s studies have been excellent this year since he’s been learning with a male teacher.”
“It’s very interesting to learn from a man,” added fifth-grader Tung. “He is very sympathetic, particularly with the boys in the class. He’s my idol. We can talk with him about many private male issues.”
In Viet Nam, female teachers vastly outnumber their male colleagues. The imbalance is seen as harmless by a lot of Vietnamese, but educational experts think the shortage of male role models in education has detrimental effects on the development of rounded personalities.
Nguyen Ha Thanh, a seventh-grade student at Ha Noi’s Thang Long Secondary School, said she has never had any male teachers.
Ho Thu Hang, a teacher at Ha Noi’s Trung Vuong High School, said there were only two male teachers out of a faculty of 52 at her school, and one of them would retire soon.
According to the Ministry of Education and Training figures, there were 780,600 general education teachers nationwide in the 2006-07 school year. Of that number, 547,000, or 70 per cent, were women. The gender imbalance was most pronounced in primary schools, where 78 per cent of teachers were female.
Nguyen Huong, head of the Quynh Mai Kindergarten, told Viet Nam News that almost all kindergarten teachers in Ha Noi were female. “No man likes to do this job because it requires a lot of patience, and a teacher must act like a mother too,” Huong said.
The situation seemed unlikely to improve any time soon, said educational experts, because little effort is being made to specifically attract men into the profession.
Only a fifth of the students at Ha Noi Teachers’ College were male, reported the college’s Student Management Department.
“In the primary education faculty, 100 per cent of the students are female,” said the department’s director.
An expert from the Global Campaign for Education’s Asia Advocacy and Campaigns Co-ordinator, said the shortage of male teachers was perpetuating gender stereotypes in children from an early age.
But Nguyen Lien Tam, a teacher at Quynh Mai Primary School, admitted that the stereotype existed.
“My mother had wanted me to become a teacher from the time I was a little girl,” said Tam, noting that stereotypical images in school textbooks made matters worse.
“Children always see images of men working as pilots or engineers, while women work as teachers or tailors,” she said.
But she also said that more women than men chose this profession because it allowed them to juggle work and home lives.
“Teaching itself is not hard work,” said Tam. “Therefore, women have more time for their families.”
Sociologist Le Thi said that despite gender equality laws, domestic chores and childcare were still seen as women’s work.
“Primary school is not a place that suits men because teaching small children means playing the role of the mother,” said Thi.
“Moreover, teaching is not a high-income job, so men who aspire to be the family breadwinner are not attracted to the profession.”
Teacher Nguyen Tuan Phat, one of only two male teachers at Le Ngoc Han Primary School agreed that he often had to act like a mother in his class.
“My efforts have paid off,” Phat said. “My students love and respect me very much, and that encourages their studies, too.”
But, he added while laughing, “I still think that women are better at persuading naughty students to behave themselves.”
A UNESCO representative in Ha Noi said it was precisely this stereotype that needed to be addressed.
“It’s true that this requires a lot of patience, but I don’t think it’s true that men lack patience or can’t cultivate patience,” she said. “And I think it’s totally wrong to think that teaching is a simple task. It’s one of the most complex jobs you can find.”
The nation needs to raise the salaries and professional status of primary school teachers to attract better teachers.
“Records show that once men get involved and start teaching at this level, they can be very good at it. Sometimes we have to lose our preconceived notions, think outside the box and do things differently. It’s important for boys to have male role models just as it is for girls to have female role models. It’s important for boys to see women in this role and vice versa.”
“From a gender perspective, boys will be put at a disadvantage if they only learn from female teachers,” said Le Thi. “There are a lot of things, especially at puberty, that boys will have difficulty with and will not dare to ask or share with their female teachers.”
Research conducted in other countries indicates that gender inequality in education has a profound effect on childhood development.
The UNESCO representative even suggested that the shortage of male teachers could be blamed for the high dropout rate among boys.