Since last year, Fujian Province in southeast China has had a pilot program that offers free education to male students enrolled in primary school and kindergarten teacher training schools. The first 500 students recruited last summer are currently studying in college, and detailed information about this year's recruitment has yet to be released.
This policy, which is intended to help increase the number of male teachers in primary schools and kindergartens in the province, has proven to be controversial. A female college student even went so far as to post a petition to the Legal Affairs Office of the Fujian Provincial Government, denouncing this practice as discrimination against female students.
Fujian Province's education authorities have explained that nowadays there is a serious shortage of male teachers in primary schools and kindergartens. According to the authorities, the lack of a "masculine atmosphere" at school is harmful to children's psychological development. More and more boys are found to be too mild, shy and obedient. The low number of male students applying to those training schools is seen as the reason for the shortage of male teachers. As a result, the pilot was launched with the intention of rebalancing the gender structure of teachers in primary schools and kindergartens, and to help children's growth.
Despite this objective, some argue that it discriminates against women, has negligible impact, and sidesteps the need for reforms for teachers' salaries and benefits.
A well-meaning attempt
Qu Zhengzhou (Shandong Business Daily): Superficially, the project seems to be discriminating against women. However, it's an undeniable fact that there are disproportionally more female teachers in primary schools and kindergartens than males. The same scenario also exists in training universities. Thus, this free education policy is reasonable.
In many science and technology universities, the majority of students are male. If a similar program were to be extended to female students as an incentive to join those universities, would that also be labeled as discrimination?
Fujian's policy means to improve the gender structure of teachers in schools, but of course, this policy alone is not enough to solve the problem. To attract more male teachers there must be other supportive measures, such as higher salaries and better benefits.
Mo Youbing (www.xxnet.com.cn): The shortage of male teachers is a common problem throughout the country. This is not good for children's psychological health and even has a negative impact on their personalities. Fujian is not the first province to adopt the policy of free education for male students. Other provinces like Jiangsu have already done so.
Nowadays, primary school and kindergarten teachers are living with relatively low salaries. Increasing their wages so male teachers can support their families will be pivotal. When teachers' salaries rise, more male teachers will come to primary schools and kindergartens.
Zhou Qianzhi (www.jyb.cn): It seems that the free normal education policy is breaching the principle of gender equality, but it's an undeniable fact that there are much more women than men in teacher training schools and colleges. The opposite can be seen in science and technology colleges, where male students account for the majority. This phenomenon cannot be changed in the short term.
Fujian's policy is an attempt to tackle the issue. If it works, more male teachers will be seen in primary schools and kindergartens. Once a relative balance in the gender structure is reached, this policy will be stopped. This temporary policy means to bring the children a more balanced gender atmosphere in schools, rather than discriminating against girls.
Zhao Zhixuan (Wenling Daily): Offering free normal education to male students does not deprive female students of their choice to go to teacher training schools, so why should it be labeled as gender discrimination? Some may argue that if it is not discrimination, female students should also enjoy free normal education. This is ridiculous.
Males are already overwhelmed by females in teacher training schools and colleges, and a free policy for both genders would only encourage more females to enroll. This would actually harm female students, as the many schools which have too many female teachers do not want to employ more women, at least for the time being. Higher female enrollment would lead to female graduates encountering more difficulty in gaining employment, and some of them may never secure school teaching positions. Limiting the number of female students actually encourages young women to attend other schools and colleges, which will enable them to find work more easily.
In this light, rather than discriminating against young women, the policy favoring male students in Fujian is helping to address the gender imbalance among primary school and kindergarten teachers.
A questionable policy
Dai Xianren (Modern Education News): Indeed, there is a lack of male teachers in primary schools and kindergartens, but many factors are responsible for this situation. Traditionally, kindergarten education has not been regarded as a suitable source of employment for men, and many do not desire to assume such positions. Even if male students are attracted by the free education in the first place, it's quite possible that they will not go on to teach at primary schools and kindergartens after graduation. Some may choose to do so because they can't afford the fees they'd have to pay should they break their contract to the program. In that case, would they exhibit a zeal for their profession?
In order to attract more young students to the profession of teaching, six universities affiliated with the Ministry of Education began offering free education in 2007. This policy has failed to reach its objective, and a certain number of graduates have broken their contracts after graduating.
Du Jianfeng (hlj.rednet.cn): A survey led by East China Normal University shows that in 27 teacher training universities and schools across the country, female students account for 65 percent while males make up 35 percent of the total. As a result, primary schools and kindergartens are almost entirely "occupied" by female teachers. However, to what extent will the free education policy help attract males?
Female students accounted for 85 percent or so of the total number of trainee teachers in Fujian Province in 2014—can 500 more male students a year reverse that imbalance?
As a matter of fact, males and females have their own advantages and disadvantages. Teacher training universities often have more female than male students simply because females find teaching a desirable profession where they can make the most of their potential. Males, for their part, can have advantages in professions that may not be suitable for women. Fujian's policy is therefore prone to misinterpretation and negative comments from the public.
Copyedited by Bryan Michael Galvan
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