Does The Gender Of A Teacher Matter?

The conventional wisdom says a male teacher shortage is bad for society, and the surplus of women in education might work against boys. A new study confronts the myths.

A kindergarten teacher in Xiahogan China
A kindergarten teacher in Xiahogan China
Fanny Jiménez

BERLIN â€" The conventional wisdom is that we desperately need more male teachers. After all, according to a report on the gender of teachers in German schools, on average 85% of them are women.

Given that the report is now 10 years old, it's likely that the current number is even higher, because the representation of women in teaching has been rising steadily over the last century. In 1960, about 46% of elementary school teachers were women, but by 1990 they represented 67% of all German teachers. A similar trend has been tracked in other Western countries

Some education experts consider this so-called "feminization" of the teaching profession a real concern. They believe boys might perform better were they to have more male teachers.

When it comes to student performance, as a matter of fact, studies show that girls have overtaken boys. They tend to start school earlier, are less likely to have to repeat classes, and attend high school longer than boys.

Now, whether this is directly related to the domination of female teachers is unclear. There are indeed various studies trying to answer that question, but to date, they contradict one another.

Marcel Helbig, from Berlin's Social Science Research Center, has recently published an overview study that includes data from 42 surveys and 2.4 million pupils from 41 countries. His finding is that it makes absolutely no difference in student performance whether the boys have female or male teachers.

Girls don't particularly benefit from female teachers, and the same is true for boys from male teachers, he says. The teacher's gender simply doesn't matter at all, Helbig concludes.

"Therefore, there is no empirical basis for political programs claiming to resolve boys' education crisis with more male teachers," Helbig says. In fact, he says, girls have always performed better in the classroom. His investigation of 369 studies confirmed that between 1914 and 2011, there were no major changes in student performance between boys and girls.

He explains the phenomenon by saying the two genders have different kinds of motivation and commitment levels. Girls tend to be more disciplined and hardworking, which results in better grades.

"Self-discipline and the willingness to work hard in order to get good grades and are not part of men's typical gender concepts," Helbig says.

If and how the school plays a key role in this behavior remains an open question for the scientist. Maybe boys do need male teachers: not to settle any injustices, but as role models.

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In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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