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Jakarta Post

Women’s contributions to education not reflected in leadership roles

  • Gemma Holliani Cahya
    Gemma Holliani Cahya

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Thu, May 14, 2020   /   03:15 pm
Women’s contributions to education not reflected in leadership roles Colorful engagement: A teacher and third grade students don the local Gajah Oling batik pattern at SDN 1 Cluring state school in Cluring, East Java, on March 3. Despite being more active in their students' development and education, women rarely go on to lead elementary schools as headmasters, especially in rural and remote areas. (JP/Aman Rochman)

Who runs the schools? Women.

It is impossible to ignore the important role that women play as teachers, especially in Indonesia, where they account for almost 70 percent of the country’s 1,433,794 primary school teachers.

For Yunita Maiza, 37, who teaches first graders at a primary school in Tanjung Uban, Riau Islands province, being a teacher at a primary school is not just about teaching young students how to count and read.

Maiza said she also chaperones them when they need to go to the toilet, consoles them when they cry and makes sure they have fun while learning in the classroom.

As it turns out, teaching primary school students requires much more patience and creativity, Maiza said, as younger children get bored easily and teachers must come up with ideas to engage with them. Even extracurricular activities and other school events are handled mostly by the female teachers.

“Female teachers are more active when it comes to bonding with the students. I think maybe it’s our motherly instincts that make us feel more connected to them,” she said.

“This is really important in the early learning environment, and it makes them feel more comfortable around us than around the male teachers who I think are more practical.”

It stands to reason that women should already be running the education system, but looking for a school led by one is an entirely different story.

Although women are more actively engaged and work in larger numbers in schools than men, only a third of all primary schools in Indonesia are led by female principals.

“Our data shows that the more senior the position is, the higher the likelihood that it will be filled by a man,” said Dewi Susanti, a senior social development specialist at the World Bank Indonesia.

“Greater welfare is associated with higher positions.”

According to a WBI survey conducted in 270 rural and remote primary schools between 2016 and 2017, the proportion of female teachers was lower than the national average of 48 percent, likely due to geographic remoteness.

However, even in that situation, the study showed that female teachers had lower absentee rates than their male counterparts.

"Our analysis indicates that teacher absence is positively correlated with civil servant status, with being a male and with low supervision by the school principal. In other words, contracted and female teachers teach more often," WBI researchers said in a study note from earlier this year.

Teacher absence is a serious problem, experts say, as it directly affects whether or not students learn in school. And as the first phase of formal education for many people, primary education is immensely important to nurturing growth in young children.

The presence of female educators in rural and remote areas has thus become more important, they say.

Inovasi untuk Anak Sekolah Indonesia (INOVASI) researchers have said that the lack of female headmasters at primary schools not only indicates gender inequality, but also that many schools do not benefit from “the effective leadership of female principals and the better learning environments they tend to create”.

Read also: Indonesian female school heads: Why so few and why we need more?

The INOVASI program is the result of a partnership between the governments of Indonesia and Australia, which aims to improve students’ learning outcomes at school.

In 2018, INOVASI conducted school surveys in 16 districts and one municipality in West Nusa Tenggara, East Nusa Tenggara, North Kalimantan and East Java.

The survey found that not only do female teachers perform better in the classroom, having female principles could also improve a school’s development, as they tend to be better at creating a more supportive learning environment.

Senza Arsendy, a monitoring, evaluation, research and learning officer with INOVASI, said the survey also found that female headmasters tended to give better quality instructions as leaders.

“Limiting their roles [in school leadership] will prevent the students from benefiting from those qualities,” Senza said on Saturday.

Having schoolgirls look up to female headmasters as role models is also important for their aspirations. “[When women don’t become headmasters] it will reinforce the stereotype that the leader of an institution is the job of a man,” he said.

Susanti, 37, has never seen a woman rise up the ranks to become a headmaster at the private high school at which she works in Bima, West Nusa Tenggara, even though the women who work there are the ones most actively involved in all activities and the students’ personal development.

“I have been teaching for 12 years in this city, and during those years I never had the experience of being led by a female headmaster,” she said.

Data from the World Bank in 2010 showed that among all education levels in Indonesia, only kindergartens were led largely by female headmasters, while between 60 to 80 percent of all other schools are led by male headmasters.

“We need to focus on the things that are preventing female teachers from becoming principals,” INOVASI’s Senza said.

He urged the government to gain a better understanding of how gender differences shaped school performance, especially when it came to filling school leadership positions.

Dewi from the World Bank Indonesia called on the government to encourage and provide more opportunities for women to become civil servants and principals through mentorship and leadership programs. An affirmative action policy could also be considered.

“Female teachers may have to overcome more barriers in pursuit of leadership positions due to family obligations or safety concerns during ex situ training,” she said.

“When the larger community becomes more aware of these barriers, they can provide [them with the] necessary additional support.”