Women teachers matter for girls’ educational success in Francophone Africa

Written on 10 Oct 18 by Jieun Lee , Dong-Eun Rhee , Robert Rudolf
Cross-national studies
Gender issues in education


How can PASEC 2014 learning assessment data provide evidence for effective policy measures to reduce the gender gap in education?

The PASEC 2014 assessment offers some insights to understand how teachers’ gender influences student learning performance in Western and Central Africa. Thorough standardized education assessment in the region provides empirical evidence for effective interventions on teacher recruitment policy to improve gender equality in education.

Teaching is becoming a female-dominated job in most of the world. Women make up the majority of teachers in a primary school in both developed (84.5%) and developing countries (59.3%). However, this is less true in sub-Saharan Africa (44.9%) according to the UNESCO Institute for Statistics (UIS, 2017). Women teachers are still the minority in many countries in Western and Central Africa, regions that lag behind in the education of girls.

Gender imbalance in teachers may affect the gender gap in learning outcomes in the following three ways: First, a same-gender teacher can act as a role model, enhancing students’ motivation to learn. Second, teachers play a pivotal role in creating gender equality or discrimination in a classroom environment. Thirdly, female teachers may provide safer learning environments for girls because of possible issues with sexual harassment and gender-based violence. Despite many empirical studies about how teacher-student gender interaction affects educational outcomes in advanced countries, research is rare in developing countries.

Our study, recently published in the Journal of Development Studies provides new evidence on the role of female teachers on primary school achievement in Western and Central Africa. Using the Programme for the Analysis of Education Systems (PASEC) 2014 survey, we analyze over 31,000 sixth-graders over 1,800 schools across 10 Francophone African countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Congo, Côte d'Ivoire, Niger, Senegal, and Togo. In 2015, only 36.9% of primary school teachers in these countries were female (UIS, 2017).

INSIGHTS GAINED FROM PASEC 2014

The PASEC 2014 includes a wide set of variables on student, teacher, and school background across 10 sub-Saharan African countries. This gives us a deeper understanding of the relationship between teacher gender, student gender, and educational outcomes.

  • Using the objective measure of standardized test scores in reading and math provides good evidence of whether teacher and student gender interaction affects pupils’ learning achievement. Gender-blind tests and objective grading by external evaluators were given with standard procedures across countries.
  • Student and teacher surveys supplement objective measures of achievement and allow us to: i) analyze how teacher-student gender allocation affects students’ perception of a particular subject; ii) compare teachers’ perception of gender gaps with actual class performance to examine if they have gender-specific expectations (stereotypes) of pupils’ math and reading ability.

MAIN FINDINGS

We found that girls score higher than boys when taught by female teachers in both reading and math. The gender performance gap was more pronounced in math (Table 3 in appendix). We also found that girls like reading subject more compared to boys when taught by women (Table 4 in appendix). The reverse was true when teachers were men.

However, interestingly, same-gender teachers strongly boost learning achievement for girls, but not for boys. Under female teachers, girls’ scores improved in both reading and math compared to their scores with male teachers. However, we found no evidence that boys’ achievement changed in math, whether their teachers were male or female. Instead, boys performed slightly better in reading when taught by female teachers (Table 3 in appendix).

PASEC 2014 results further reveal that the traditional gender stereotype that ‘boys are better at math while girls are better at reading’ is widespread among both male and female teachers in Western and Central Africa. Interestingly, we found that teachers’ perceptions of the relative average academic performance of girls versus boys in their classes were often opposite to their actual performance. In particular, both male and female teachers frequently overestimated boys’ math performance (Table 5 in appendix).

FEMALE TEACHERS AS ROLE MODELS

How can our main findings be interpreted in the context of widespread teacher stereotyping? Interestingly, while girls suffer from stereotyping in math by both male and female teachers, they do perform significantly better under female teachers. This suggests that role model effects might play a non-negligible role in explaining our findings.

POLICY IMPLICATIONS

In many sub-Saharan African countries, particularly in Western and Central Africa, large gender gaps remain in access to the teaching profession. And girls lag behind boys in academic performance. Our study, based on concrete empirical evidence using the PASEC dataset, has strong implications for educational policy makers in Western and Central African countries if the goal is to enhance gender equality and the overall quality of primary education. We suggest that hiring more female primary school teachers in the regions can contribute to bridging educational gender gaps without hurting boys’ performance.

What’s more, our research is expected to spark public debate on the role of female teachers, which gives some insights into reducing gender gap. Given the limited budget constraints in education as well as the teacher shortage due to rapid primary schooling expansion in many African countries, increasing female teacher recruitment could be one of the most effective interventions to improve gender equality and overall education quality in primary education.
 

This blog relies on the article in press “Teacher Gender, Student Gender, and Primary School Achievement: Evidence from Ten Francophone African Countries” in the Journal of Development Studies. To read the full article, please visit here

Contributed by: Jieun Lee, PhD student in the Department of Education at Korea University; Dong-Eun Rhee, Associate Professor of Economics in the Division of International Studies at Korea University; Robert Rudolf, Associate Professor of Economics in the Division of International Studies at Korea University


APPENDIX

Student-teacher gender interaction and learning achievement in reading and math
Student-teacher gender interaction and learning achievement in reading and math

 

Student-teacher gender interaction and students’ appreciation in reading and math
Student-teacher gender interaction and students’ appreciation in reading and math

 

​Student-teacher gender interaction and students’ appreciation in reading and math [Click and drag to move] ​
Teachers’ gender-specific expectations (stereotypes) of pupils’ math and reading ability

Bio

Robert Rudolf

Associate Professor of Economics in the Division of International Studies at Korea University

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Dong-Eun Rhee

Associate Professor of Economics in the Division of International Studies at Korea University

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Jieun Lee

PhD student in the Department of Education at Korea University