Women Teaching In South Asia, edited by Jackie Kirk, (HB), Sage Publications, Pp 241, Rs. 495
Policy makers in developing countries, especially in Asia have adopted the strategy of employing increasing number of women teachers in schools as a way of increasing enrollment of girl child. While it may appear that this move has paid off, the teachers, the carriers of this torch are an ignored lot. A recent publication Women Teaching In South Asia edited by Jackie Kirk has put together articles by teachers, researchers and educationists to discuss the issue from teachers? point of view.
The volume is an attempt to project and draw attention to the dichotomy of what is called WID and GAD i.e. Women In Development and Gender And Development. WID is a rather ancient idea, looking at women in separation from development, much as the UPA views minorities. Whereas GAD includes women in development, placing gender in the midst on all policies, plans and programmes. To make women the centre or the focus of development.
?The dominant approach with respect to women teachers in development context is one of integration into existing gender and educational paradigms. Such a paradigm appears to separate body from context, body from mind and most particularly body from politics? it focuses primarily on quantity rather than quality, on outcome rather than experience,? says Jackie Kirk in the introduction.
According to global education statistics, 59 per cent of the world primary and secondary teachers were women. While it is as high as 84 per cent in North America and Western Europe, it is 44 per cent in South and West Asia.
The book contains experiences of women teachers from six countries in South Asia ? India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Nepal as they share a common social matrix, in terms of beliefs and societal structure.
Teaching is seen as a ?culturally appropriate? profession for women. Just an extension of the women'snature to care for children. It is socially accepted and even approved for a woman to be a teacher. Mainly because it does not disturb the domestic atmosphere, where she continues to look after her husband and family and carries on the domestic chores. Most women teachers in the book have mentioned these as reasons for choosing the profession.
Despite the increasing number of women as teachers, there has hardly been any study of their working conditions and their classroom experiences. Separate rest rooms for women teachers, separate toilets for girls and women teachers are not available in most non-urban schools in the region. In fact, this is sighted as one of the reasons for lack of response in Nepal to girls attending schools.
The stereotyping of women does not escape the teachers also. An overwhelming number of male colleagues felt that they were good as ?primary teachers? as they could give ?love? to small children. And they did not have to teach ?hard? subjects like maths and science. A ?women'sghetto? in the teaching profession. According to Swarna Jayaweera, from Sri Lanka ?women teachers seem to have contributed to reinforcing rather than challenging pervasive gender stereotypes and attitudes?? by emphasising on the shorter working hours and vacations as the motivations for choosing the profession, rather than enthusiasm for teaching.
While the situation in India may not be as bad as it exists in other countries in the region, especially Bangladesh, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nepal, the aspects of women not being involved in the policies and programmes being evolved for them is very much relevant. There is no denying the fact that female literacy and women teachers are interconnected, the latter enhancing the former. But to use women teachers only as a rouse to better female enrolment defeats the very purpose of the effort.
Our culture exalts teacher to the position of God. And hence the profession of teachers even today is looked at with respect, across the gender. But that does not eliminate the discrimination and the ?ghettoising? that women teachers face in India. With education fully becoming a commercial venture in India, and a large part of them operating in unorganised sector, the disparity and inequalities are bound to be more. As the editor of the book has suggested, it is high time studies were taken up on the working condition of women teachers, as their numbers increase by the year.
The book is an academic work that should stimulate the thoughts of people in the planning and programme departments in the countries in the region.
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