Old lessons the V4 education systems should unlearn

Having more male teachers in classrooms improves children’s learning experience, but in V4 countries teaching remains a highly feminized profession. This not only has negative implications for students, but for teachers themselves, because the feminization of a profession also means declining salaries and occupational prestige. So isn’t it time we question those antiquated notions linking teaching to femininity?

Photo: CreativeCommons/ Håkan Dahlström

Men appear to play a rather minor role in basic education in V4 countries. Women dominate the primary and secondary school’s teaching statistics – only in the Czech Republic does their share drop below 75%, and even then only slightly so.

For decades educational systems in V4 countries have had similar structures and features; even post-89 reforms followed similar patterns. 1 One common feature has been women’s over-representation in teaching occupations; and while this is not unique to the region, education in V4 countries is more feminized than it is most European countries. 2 So why are there so many female teachers in V4?

One explanation is the stereotypes that link femininity and care. 3 Society views women as biologically predisposed to nurture children, and often believes that the younger the children, the more nurturing and less educating that is needed. Because one’s ability to nurture is considered inherent, while one’s ability to educate requires some learning (in combination with personality traits), becoming a primary teacher does not require the theoretical training teaching at secondary and tertiary levels do.  Consequently the training that primary and preschool teachers go through is shorter, and the requirements so minimal, that some people occasionally question whether qualifications are required at all.

Thus, teachers at lower education levels generally have lower prestige than secondary and tertiary teachers; and this fortifies unsubstantiated stereotypes that define men as better professionals. The connection between high feminization and low professional prestige was supported by several historical analyses, showing that occupational prestige and average salaries decline if the rate of female teachers increases over 60%. 4 The explanation lies in unsubstantiated stereotypes which define men as better professionals.

Men are absent from primary and secondary schools

In the V4 the highest percentage of female teachers work in the preschool level, where men constitute less than 2%. 5 In fact, women predominate at the primary levels of all European countries, 6 however feminization is stronger in the V4 where in Hungary and the Czech Republic, 95% of preschool teachers are women (graph 1.1). 7

In grammar schools, more than 80% of teachers are women. 8 While gender ratios are pretty stable in all the countries overall, the proportion of men is slowly decreasing in all countries, but this trend can really be seen in the Czech Republic, where in 1993/94 men made up 17.5% of all primary and low secondary teachers but in 2013/14 only made up 15.7% (graph 1.2).

In upper secondary schools women also predominate, however their prevalence is not as obvious. 9 Over the last eight years, the ratio of men and women teachers in the upper secondary level has been relatively stable, but longer term trends highlight men’s declining presence. Available data from 1993/94 shows that male representation in teaching decreased from 38% to 29% in Slovakia, and from 51% to 40% in the Czech Republic, and we can only presume that trends in the other two V4 countries has been similar (graph 1.3).

Women are not only overrepresented in the teaching positions in V4 preschool, primary and secondary education, but also in school management. In all four countries, women comprise the majority of headmaster and deputy headmaster positions, with gradually decreasing presence within the more advanced education levels.

Although complete statistical data is not available for the gendered breakdown of Slovakia and the Czech Republic’s preschool management, 10 in 2013/14 women constituted 99% of Poland’s headmasters, and 97.4% of Hungary’s at this level. 11 At the primary and lower secondary levels, women hold 76.6% of the V4’s headmaster positions, 12 and what’s more, the proportion of women in this category is growing, having increased 2-4% in the 10 years between 2003/04 and 2013/14. Women’s representation in upper secondary management is slightly lower, but women still hold 58.25% of the V4’s headmaster positions at this level (graph 2). 13

Women’s representation in the deputy headmaster positions is much higher than in headmaster positions. Women make up 92% of deputy headmasters in Polish primary schools, 85% in Hungarian schools and 76% of those in the Czech Republic. 14 However there is a slight decrease in women occupying deputy headmaster roles in upper secondary schools, with 71% in Poland and 59% in Hungary, however they still constitute a majority. 15

Although women predominate in managerial positions at pre-primary, primary and secondary schools, their proportion is significantly lower than in teaching positions. Even though male teachers at primary and low secondary schools are rare (13-18%), they are disproportionately represented in management (14-35%). 16 These irregular ratios in managerial and teaching positions, are supported by society’s picture of men as predisposed for leadership and women as predisposed for care.

Gender stereotypes have built the image of women as patient, nurturing, emotional, and men as rational, unbiased, resolute, and this has led to the vertical gender segregation in education systems. 17 It is important to equalize the representation of women and men in both managerial and teaching positions, because teaching diversity helps support the individual learning processes of each student; 18 and because having more male teachers and female headmasters, would definitively model a positive change to students who see their superiors as role models. 19 If pupils at lower education levels meet both female and male teachers, they will abstract that teaching is a neutral field where both men and women can succeed. 20

Teaching is not a profession for breadwinners

The perception that women are better teachers than men because of inborn characteristics, like patience, and culture-specific roles, like homemaking, is a part of the so-called “gender contract.” 21 Based on this contract, women are supposed to find satisfaction in occupations with lower prestige and lower salaries, as long as they help them fulfill their gender role, which is to mainly be a good housekeeper and mother; while men are to be the primary breadwinners.

In all educational levels there is a correlation between the proportion of women in each position and the position’s average salary. The average teacher’s salary in V4 countries is relatively low when compared to both average national salaries and the salaries of university-educated employees, and this deters men from pursuing this occupation. That is why attempts to increase the number of male teachers often revolve around increasing teachers’ average salary. However, these dynamics works both ways though: as male representation increases, so does average salary. 22

In all V4 countries, a university degree is required to teach all educational levels except preschool. 23 Yet in three countries (Polish data unavailable), the teachers average salary is just 40-75% of the salaries university-educated people average. Only Poland has shown improvement in teachers’ salaries, but all other V4 countries show a decline. The worst situation is in Hungary, where in the 2005/06 school year, preschool teacher salaries were 90% of the national average and 47% of the average salary of university educated employees, but by 2013/14 it had fallen to 77% and 39%. Significant decreases were also observed at other education levels (For a complete country breakdown see graph 3). 24

The unfinished business of teacher training

In all V4 countries, teacher training systems follow the Bologna process which divides programs into bachelor and masters degrees, and requires the completion of both. 25 However, in the Czech Republic and Hungary, training programs for primary school teachers are not divided this way, and only last four years altogether. Whereas students who want to become primary level teachers must decide before entering university, students who want to become secondary level teachers can complete any bachelors program, making the decision to become a teacher later.

This brings specific gender dynamics into teacher training, as some research claims that such decisions can be tougher in late adolescence for boys than for girls, because in our cultures, girls usually have more experience with small children. 26

Girls are more likely to be involved in their siblings’ care, and communicate with children in the wider social context, while also receiving societal messages that impart women’s supposed predisposition for relationships with smaller children. So girls´ decisions to become teachers are more accepted by a society that might question such a choice for boys. 27

So if we wanted to increase the number of men in primary teaching programs, 28 pushing the decision-making age back, by a disjunction of the primary bachelor and master degree, might support boys ability to make such decision later. Boys’ interest in teaching can also be piqued or reinforced by a higher proportion of male teachers, or by career-choice campaigns and peer programs 29 that show teaching to be an occupation suitable for men (graph 4). 30

Not all students are aware of gender stereotypes, and although gender-related courses are offered as electives in V4 universities, mandatory courses that address gender issues are nonexistent. As international experience shows, putting gender into the compulsory curriculum of teacher training would be useful. 31 Without gender awareness, teachers will reproduce stereotypes, and students will remain naive about stereotypes and why they are problematic, remaining less prepared to handle them in life.

A new direction for V4 education

In a democracy, men and women should equally be able to influence the development of society, and should have the freedom to make life choices, like which occupation to pursue. A more balanced proportion of women and men among teachers is an important tool for the promotion of gender equality in general, and might make this more likely. 32 The diversification of school teams by age or race or culture would also support an efficient learning processes, and bring more prestige and a higher average salary to the teaching occupation.

While some of the V4 countries have initiated government policies that focused on gender inequality in education, they were mainly established in response to EU requirements during the accession process, 33 and implementation was weak. 34 Although the governments are aware of the low number of male teachers, there are no specific national initiatives to increase their representation. 35 It is clear that there has not been a local realization that gender inequality is a serious problem and that the state should deal with it, and this approach is still predominant in both the political and public spheres.

Schools can and should promote gender equality through a set of instruments including formal and informal curriculum.  36 Children come to school with a number of ideas about women and men’s roles that they have learned from their parents, siblings, local communities and the media. Schools should help them challenge this and critically reflect. If schools do not, they are willingly participating in the reproduction of dangerous social and gender inequalities, 37 that later translate into labor market inequalities, having life-long impacts. 38 In all V4 countries, women work in less prestigious occupations, in less dominant positions and for lower average salaries when compared to men.

As we saw, in all four countries, the younger the children, the higher proportion of female teachers; and consequently the higher proportion of female teachers, the lower the average salary. As a result, the teaching occupation is perceived in deeply stereotypical ways, commands low prestige and low remuneration and does not attract men. For effective learning, it is important to increase diversity in teacher teams; the more diverse the teacher population, 39 the higher chance that each student will get the most of their education.

Bringing in more men should be a major initiative of  V4 educational reform.  Teachers are role models for students and students create their conceptions of gender based on their experiences with women and men in education. International studies have shown the success and efficiency of campaigns that portray teaching as attractive field for both men and women and affirmative actions to interest men entering exams to teacher training institutions. 40 In the V4’s case, we can probably start by increasing teachers’ salaries.

The full data visualisation is available here. In case you would like to receive the full data set for either country or the whole V4, send us an email at rebecca(at)visegradrevue.eu

The article is part of the project “Learning about causes and effects of gender (im)balance in Central Europe” funded by the European Union flag_yellow_high
The content series was created by the V4Revue, not by the funder.


  1. The structure of the education system includes 4 basic levels: pre-primary schools (kindergarten), grammar schools, high schools and universities. A specific variant feature of education in the V4 countries is that grammar school combines primary and lower secondary levels. While the education system also contains separated secondary schools with both lower and upper levels, most students follow the main educational track until the end of the lower secondary level. Grammar school teachers specialize in primary or lower secondary education. For insight into the history of education reforms see L. Cerych, “Educational Reforms in Central and Eastern Europe: processes and outcomes,” European Journal of Education, 1997, pp 75-96.
  2. Eurydice publications emphasize that from primary to upper secondary education levels, female representation among teachers decreases rapidly, especially in the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Finland, Sweden and Norway. The steepest reduction can be seen in Malta, where the 85.2% of female teachers in primary education drops to 43% in upper secondary education. Source: http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/education/eurydice/documents/key_data_series/151EN_HI.pdf
  3. Gender refers to the distinction of people into two groups: men and women. Many social institutions and mechanisms work to define and establish this, sometimes leading to gender stereotypes, which ascribe gender roles in a society.
  4. For example A. Etzioni, The semi-professions and their organization: Teachers, nurses, social workers, Free Press, 1969.
  5. In the Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia men constitute less than 1% of preschool teachers, while Hungary where men actually represent 1.6% of all preschool teachers, is a slight exception. However, Hungary’s female-to-male ratio was similar to the other three during previous years. It is not clear what exactly happened between the 2012/13 and 2013/14 academic years, when male representation increased from 0.2% to 1.6%; there is no information about a specific national initiative or campaign.
  6. In Turkey 52% of primary teachers are women, while in Denmark 68% are, and in the Czech Republic, Italy, Lithuania, Hungary and Slovenia 95% are female. See:   http://eacea.ec.europa.eu/education/eurydice/documents/key_data_series/151EN_HI.pdf
  7. The reason probably lies in the communist past. From the 50s on, the regime supported the employment of women in certain fields, where the gender contract had been established. For more information see H. Havelková, “Women in and after a ‘classless’ society,” Women and Social Class: International Feminist Perspectives, 1999, pp 69-84.
  8. According to the International Standard Classification of Education, that sorts the 10 educational levels, grammar school includes ISCED levels 1 and 2. Some countries’ available statistics do not distinguish between primary or lower secondary level teachers.
  9. Most of the upper secondary schools only cover ISCED educational level 3, however a small portion of schools cover both the low and high secondary levels. The high secondary study tracks last 2-5 years, depending on the program type: shorter programs are vocational and longer programs are academic and usually lead to university studies. The vocational programs are tailored to concrete occupations (hairdresser, nurse, car mechanic etc.), and are often seen as strongly masculine or feminine in two respects: the number of women and men working in the field, and the image society has of the occupation as suitable for either women or men; Country differences probably result from schools various internal structures and from variant levels of average salary and prestige.
  10. That some countries’ statistical data on school management is not collected, is very important, as it is not possible to fight against inequalities without an empirical base.
  11. In Hungary, the high percentage of male headmasters and male teachers correspond to each other. If we compare the number of headmasters along gendered lines, we find that men have 14% chance of becoming headmasters, and women only an 8% chance. There is no specific information available about national policies in Hungary that aim to increase the proportion of male headmasters. However, because the data from previous years showed consistently much lower ratios (0.2%), some external cause, which has yet to be identified, probably exists.
  12. V4 average – data from Hungary, Poland and Slovakia. National statistical data combines headmaster and deputy headmaster positions. Data for the Czech Republic is not available.
  13. V4 average of data from Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic
  14. Data from Slovakia is not accessible.
  15. Data from the Czech Republic and Slovakia is not available. National statistical data combines headmaster and deputy headmaster positions. As was emphasize, school policies should be based on detailed statistical data, efficient policy making is limited when it is not available.
  16. Female teachers have a lesser chance than male teachers to be promoted into management. At the primary levels, women have a 4.6% chance to reach the highest managerial position in Poland, while men have a 8.1% chance; in Hungary women have a 2.2% chance, while men have a 7.8% chance. In upper secondary levels women’s chances of becoming headmaster decreases to only 2%, while men have a 4% chance in both Poland and Hungary. This implies that promotion processes are gendered.
  17. Vertical gender segregation is related to two phenomenon: the “glass ceiling,” which stops or at least slowdowns females’ careers, and the “glass escalator,” which helps or even forces men to reach higher positions, especially in feminized occupations
  18. K.M. Bailey, A. Curtis, D. Nunan, and D Fan, Pursuing professional development: The self as source. Boston: Heinle & Heinle, 2001; B. Francis and C. Skelton, Reassessing gender and achievement: Questioning contemporary key debates, Routledge 2005.
  19. A. V. Kelly, The curriculum: Theory and practice. Sage, 2009.
  20. J. L. Meece, B. B. Glienke and S. Burg, “Gender and motivation,” Journal of School Psychology, 2006, 44(5): 351-373; C. Skelton, B. Francis and L. Smulyan (Eds.), The Sage handbook of gender and education, Sage, 2006.
  21. Many publications offer extended definitions of the gender contract: W. Zapf, “Modernisierung und Transformation,” in Bernd Schäfers and Wolfgang Zapf (ed.), Handwörterbuch zur Gesellschaft Deutschlands, Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 2001, pp 492-501; A. Leira, “Updating the ‘gender contract’? Childcare reforms in the Nordic countries in the 1990s,” NORA: Nordic Journal of Women’s Studies, 2002, 10(2), pp 81-89.
  22. A. Etzioni, The semi-professions and their organization: Teachers, nurses, social workers. Free Press, 1969; P. Glick, “Trait-based and sex-based discrimination in occupational prestige, occupational salary, and hiring,” Sex Roles, 1991, 25(5-6): 351-378.
  23. In all V4 countries, the average salary of a preschool teacher is significantly lower and fall under the national salary averages, than the average salary of a higher education teacher, which exceed national salary averages everywhere, except Hungary.
  24. In 2005/06 this was 103% on the primary and low secondary levels, resp. 53%, and 123% on the upper secondary level, resp. 63% and in 2013/14 this was 86%, resp. 44% in primary and low secondary schools and 98%, resp. 50% in high secondary schools. On all educational levels, the average salaries decreased significantly.
  25. A master’s degree must be obtained at a faculty of education or other faculty offering a “teaching-minimum” course.
  26. C. J. Benton DeCorse and S. P. Vogtle, “In a complex voice: The contradictions of male elementary teachers’ career choice and professional identity.” Journal of Teacher Education, 1997, 48(1):37-47; C. Skelton, “Male primary teachers and perceptions of masculinity.” Educational Review, 2003 55(2):195-209.
  27. C. Skelton, B. Francis and L. Smulyan (Eds.), The Sage handbook of gender and education. 2006 Sage; F. W. Parkay, B. H. Stanford and T.D. Gougeon, Becoming a teacher, 2010, Pearson/Merrill.
  28. The male-to-female ratio is the most favorable in Hungary, where actually male proportion is more than 1/4. But there is also the largest gap between number of men in training (27%) and in schools (18%). In the other three countries, the situation varies. In Slovakia, there is also higher number of men in teacher training programs (22%) than men working as teachers (18%). In Poland and the Czech Republic, it is the other way around – 10% to 12% in Poland and 15% to 20% in the Czech Republic.[28] Men in Hungary and Slovakia, even those that get their MA in teaching, are not drawn to teaching occupations. In Slovakia, this trend has been apparent since 2007/08 (when data became available); while in Hungary, we cannot conclude whether it is a long-term trend or not, because older data are not available.); while i)tructure e s=yions,s e of gender stereotypes, because although gender-related courses are offered as electives.
  29. It is important to blunt the gender stereotypes about suitable male and female domains within peer groups, because peer pressure is strong factor in adolescence.
  30. C. J. Benton DeCorse and S. P. Vogtle, “In a complex voice: The contradictions of male elementary teachers’ career choice and professional identity.” Journal of Teacher Education, 1997, 48(1):37.
  31. S. Aikman, and E. Unterhalter (Eds.), Beyond access: Transforming policy and practice for gender equality in education, 2005 Oxfam.
  32. R. Subrahmanian, “Gender equality in education: Definitions and measurements,” International Journal of Educational Development, 2005, 25(4):395-407.
  33. H. Havelková, “Women in and after a ‘classless’ society,” Women and Social Class: International Feminist Perspectives, 1999, pp 69-84; M. Verloo (Ed.), Multiple meanings of gender equality: a critical frame analysis of gender policies in Europe, 2007, Budapest, Hungary: Central European University Press.
  34. The exception is Poland – to my knowledge, there isn’t a government strategy that addresses gender issues in education.
  35. The only exception is the Czech Republic’s 2008 campaign Men in Schools!. It, as with the other initiatives, was very formal and didn’t produce a real impact.
  36. Formal curriculum contains explicit lessons given by official pedagogical documents and preparations for teaching. Conversely, informal curriculum contains hidden and unintentional lessons.
  37. Pierre Bourdieu wrote about the strong tendency of educational systems to reproduce social inequalities. The promotion of meritocracy and equality is not the axiomatic feature of each school, but it must be pursued intentionally. P. Bourdieu, “The school as a conservative force: Scholastic and cultural inequalities,” Contemporary research in the sociology of education, 1974, pp 32, 46.
  38. R. Inglehart and P. Norris, Rising tide: Gender equality and cultural change around the world, 2003, Cambridge University Press.
  39. For more about the advantages of diverse teacher teams see: C. Skelton, Schooling the Boys: Masculinities and Primary Education. Educating Boys, Learning Gender, 2001, Taylor & Francis, Florence.
  40. M. E. Barreto, M. K. Ryan and M. T. Schmitt, The glass ceiling in the 21st century: Understanding barriers to gender equality, 2009, American Psychological Association;  S. Aikman and E. Unterhalter (Eds.), Beyond access: Transforming policy and practice for gender equality in education, 2005 Oxfam; C. J. Benton DeCorse and S. P. Vogtle, “In a complex voice: The contradictions of male elementary teachers’ career choice and professional identity,” Journal of Teacher Education, 1997, 48(1):37; F. W. Parkay, B.H. Stanford and T.D. Gougeon,  Becoming a teacher, 2010, Pearson/Merrill.
Irena Smetáčková

Irena Smetáčková

is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychology at the Charles University in Prague. From both a theoretical and research perspective she focuses primarily on gender-sensitive education and mainly pedagogic communication, peer-relations and formation of gender identity within the process of socialization at schools.