In the U.S. more than half of university teaching staff is co-raising a family during the pandemic.
University academic staff represent a heterogeneous mix of professionals. In Mexico, higher education teachers number 400 thousand persons, 80% of whom work by the hour. The United States has 1.5 million high school and higher education teachers. England sums to 419,710 university academic staff and whose working hours have been affected by prevention measures during the pandemic.
Many articles have been devoted to delineating the problems of confinement, such as complications of remote work, the decrease in academic production, and the feminine exodus from the labor force. However, conversations about job flexibility for teachers and the role of the gender perspective in managing a teacher-friendly landscape form an unattended forum.
Gender perspective and teaching flexibility
The gender perspective in developing labor policies is a recurring issue in any work community, and teaching is no exception. However, in times of COVID-19, we have seen the impact that confinement and online school as the only educational option have had on families, especially those where the father, the mother or both, are teachers.
According to Harvard University’s Job Satisfaction Survey, 53% of university teaching personnel co-raise a family. The U.S. government does not have laws requiring educational institutions to provide a paid maternity leave to their teachers. Some universities consider course reduction as a measure of support, but this usually comes with a pay reduction proportional to the reduced hours. In England, there is no uniformity in the approach to maternity days; periods may vary from 0 to 26 weeks, depending on the institution to which the teachers belong. Mexico offers 12 weeks for women workers registered with IMSS (the Mexican Institute of Social Security), but this does not necessarily include university teaching staff hired from outsourcing, part-time, or seasonal.
Some U.S. universities have neutral policies that contemplate paternity leave for male educational staff when new members are born. However, the number of universities with this benefit is low, and the penalties of reduced working hours and pay with the possibility of delaying raises are the same. In England, paternity leave adds up to 56 days from birth. Mexico’s government grants five days to IMSS-registered workers, with the State of Mexico being the first to extend the leave to 45 days for workers in the public education sector.
Both male and female teachers are responsible for managing online education with students’ parents and addressing their own children’s educational needs with their teachers. This requires the need to rethink the work schedule considering the hours of domestic work or childcare that teachers and other educational professionals need to maintain their families in balance.
How to mitigate the problem?
One of the most severe problems in understanding the situation is the lack of statistics. We have countless data that reveal how many teachers work in a given country, at what level they teach, their age range, and their gender. However, there is a lack of critical data to size the impact of the pandemic on teachers’ families and other professionals.
We lack information about how many teachers have families, how many of these families have children under 14, and who spend the most hours on housework and home care. Very few studies and surveys ask the right questions. The need for a theoretical framework on which we can build work practices that reduce the burden of professional teachers and parents is clear.
Another essential aspect would be to develop policies to support teachers and professionals with family, allowing more flexible schedules or resources for absences due to medical reasons or family problems. Again, the gender perspective plays a crucial role in this intention, as it provides mechanisms for considering the uneven load of care and domestic work that disproportionately affects women.
It must be remembered that it is not only the workforce that has to adjust to the conditions imposed by the pandemic. Companies and employers also face learning curves to adapt to telework and pressures on domestic and work-life that have been caused by confinement.
What has been your experience as a home teacher? Do you think a different work program is needed that considers the capacities of online education and flexibility to respond to teachers’ families’ care and educational needs?
Translation by Daniel Wetta.