Bricks in the wall

As has been well-documented and discussed over recent years, girls are doing better at school than boys in the UK (although it hasn’t quite translated to the workplace yet). Various reasons have been put forward – including the fact that there aren’t very many male teachers for boys to look up to. I’m not entirely sure why boys need male teachers as role models, seeing as they already have most of world’s leaders and top CEOs to inspire them, but it’s possibly plausible. An alternative explanation is that male teachers might be better at enforcing discipline – although the social reasons for why that might be are another discussion altogether.

INSEAD have recently published a working paper on discrimination in schools, which investigates a different aspect of the effects of male and female teachers in school. According to previous research, teachers tend to give higher marks to students from the same gender – so female teachers might be more lenient in marking female pupils’ homework, and male teachers might be more lenient with male pupils.

The INSEAD study involved going into some British secondary schools to test whether pupils think that they have a better chance of higher marks with male or female teachers. The study suggests that boys, correctly, think they have a chance of higher marks with male teachers. Girls also – in this case mistakenly – think they have a chance of higher marks with male teachers. The implication is that both girls and boys would try harder if they had male teachers, because they think they have a better chance of being rewarded for their efforts.

Is this an argument for more male teachers? Possibly. But it seems odd to expect that girls’ misperceptions would persist over time if they had more male teachers. And is it a good thing is pupils are encouraged to try harder just because they think they have a better chance at higher marks? Maybe I’m an idealist, but education feels like it should be about more than grades.

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