Enhancing student learning can come in myriad ways but one factor that may often be overlooked is the diversity of teachers and its impact on students.
In many developing countries, classrooms are becoming increasingly ethnically and racially diverse; schools need to respond to the changing demographics and make the classroom more inclusive.
Despite this, reports state that a lack of diversity in the teaching workforce continues.
In Australia, researchers Kevin F. McGrath and Penny Van Bergen claimed that male teachers are an endangered species in a 2017 article for The Conversation.
They said: “Male teachers may face extinction in Australian primary schools by the year 2067 unless urgent policy action is taken. In government schools, the year is 2054.”
In the US, Phi Delta Kappan said the country has made little progress in ensuring the diversity of the teaching workforce reflects the diversity of the student body in US public schools.
“Between 2003 and 2012, for example, the percentage of the nation’s teachers who are Black dropped by more than a point, while over the same time span, the increase in the percentage of Latinx students far outpaced the modest increase in the percentage of Latinx teachers,” it said.
A diverse teacher workforce benefits everyone
Numerous research suggests students benefit from a diverse teacher workforce. For instance, the IZA Institute of Labor Economics found some benefits to students being assigned a same race teacher.
They found black males in the third, fourth or fifth grades who were assigned to a black teacher were far less likely to drop out of high school, particularly among the most economically disadvantaged black males.
Researchers also found that exposure to at least one black teacher in grades 3-5 also increases the likelihood of persistently low-income students of both sexes attending a four-year college.
Similarly, in its report, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) – an American non-profit organisation – said: “Research tells us that students benefit from learning from someone they can relate to, socially and culturally.”
This includes factors such as ethnicity or race, as well as socioeconomic experience.
ABC News reported that one in 100 teachers are Indigenous, with Indigenous teachers interviewees agreeing that a lack of diversity in schools can have a damaging impact on students.
One teacher, Rachel Bos, said Indigenous students draw strength from her, citing an example of a student who wrote her a letter that said Bos was the first Aboriginal woman that’s taught her, and that she’s so proud of the culture now.
In the US, a study by Thomas Dee found that girls tend to do better with a female teacher and boys with a male.
With research pointing towards the benefits of a diverse teacher force, are schools and governments doing enough to ensure they attract a wider pool of talent?