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‘Workload, sexism, lack of voice ail Asian teachers’

Many teachers in countries across the Asia-Pacific region are suffering from a series of problems including overtime work, gender discrimination against females and the lack of opportunities for professional development, a recent UNESCO report said.

Released to mark “World Teachers’ Day” on Oct. 5, the report examined the status and rights of teachers across eight participating countries: South Korea, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Samoa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Cambodia and Indonesia.

The report, “Teachers in Asia Pacific: Status and Rights,” analyzed: entry requirements; preservice training; recruitment and deployment; workload; professional development; salaries; retirement; assessment; unions; and school leadership.

The study found a mismatch between the supply and demand of teachers in almost all of the countries while showing higher attrition rates in Samoa.

Some countries showed overrepresentation of males in senior leadership roles, raising concern that the shortage of females in leadership position may lead to a lack of role models for girls.

In South Korea, the percentage of female teachers has consistently been on the rise but the majority of leadership positions are still occupied by men. According to Statistics Korea, women accounted for 76.7 percent, 67.9 percent and 48.9 percent of teachers in elementary, middle and high schools in 2014. But female principals for respective education institutes were only 22 percent, 21.3 percent and 8.9 percent.

Working hours and opportunities for professional development was another issue that stood out. Mongolian teachers for example, are expected to work outside the office to fulfill their responsibilities.

In case of Korean teachers, they are required to spend far more time on administrative work than average teachers in members of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. OECD’s Teaching and Learning International Survey found that 80 percent of Korean teachers believe that their long working hours are what hinder them from participating in professional development activities.

The shortfall in teachers’ development was not derived from lack of trying, the report indicated.

“Nevertheless, in many countries the government commitment to professional development is evident, as demonstrated in Uzbekistan and Korea by the recent increases in the budget allocations for it,” the report said. Korea’s Education Ministry mandates an annual 60 hours of job training for teachers.

But the work overload for teachers is making it difficult for educators to train themselves, Korean teachers say.

Another issue is that teachers in many Asian countries have trouble publicizing their opinions, such as by joining unions. In Cambodia, teachers are considered civil servants and are banned from joining a union, although they can join teachers’ associations. While there is no such taboo in Korea, teachers ― also considered civil servants ― are banned from taking actions that are deemed politically motivated.

The study pointed out that factors such as participatory decision making, shared leadership, freedom and independence in the classroom, professional development opportunities, self-efficacy and incentives are all contributory factors to teachers’ performance. It suggested that authorities should recognize teachers’ contributions and insights to enhance their status and increase their morale, while providing them a channel to raise educational concerns and contribute to the policy-making process.

“We have entrusted teachers with the critical task of molding the minds of future generations. They need, and deserve, our support to carry out their work,” said UNESCO Bangkok director Kim Gwang-jo. “(The study) is an initial step toward better understanding how teachers are regarded and supported in this region.”

By Yoon Min-sik
(minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)
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