The best educational environments are those that are fair to all students, male or female.
Gender messages are all around us. From images in school books to those on bus ads, from conversations on the train or the big screen, from clothing stores in malls or any plush office. Everywhere we turn, we are submerged in messages about what it means to be a “correct” or “normal” woman or man. Gender is everywhere.
The Annual Review of Psychology says that children develop a sense of self around 18 months, and then “begin to actively engage in seeking information about what things men and how they should behave”. Part of this process means adopting gender-normative behaviour and associating gender with basic stereotypes. For example, girls liking dolls or boys having short hair. It’s between three to five years of age, when children attend preschool during which these ideas tend to solidify.
School teachers play a pivotal role in promoting gender disparity in school, as we start building habits and opinions from a younger age. Creating equal educational opportunities for students begins in the classroom and with the teacher. A strong teacher is one who treats their students fairly creating an environment where students feel equally about taking part.
As children enter adolescence, they start taking note of the differences amongst themselves and their peers. During this stage a teacher plays a very important role in constructing social expectations of gender roles. These interactions also create long-lasting effects on their self-image and their perception of the opportunities that are available or appropriate for them.
Suggestions for teachers to promote gender equality within a classroom.
- Be Reflective and Be Objective
Pay attention to new trends coming up and try to give gender-neutral responses about these trends to your students.
- Use gender-neutral language
when referring to children E.g. instead of saying, ‘Choose a boy to go with you’ say, ‘Choose a friend to go with you’. Similarly avoid organizing children according to gender, E.g. ‘Boys line up here and girls here.’ This only reinforces gender segregation.
- Avoid stereotyping children
E.g. boys are noisy and loud, girls are calm and sweet or boys show less emotion and girls cry more readily.
- Self-regulate your interaction with the children
We tend to comfort girls more and send boys on their way earlier. Encourage all children to share feelings and emotions equally.
- Ask all students to participate in a variety of classroom chores
- Seat and Group Students Intentionally
Encourage boys and girls to sit together by making a seating chart.
- Use Project Based Learning
- Avoid asking students to speak on behalf of their gender
Ask students to speak for themselves rather than a larger group. Avoid asking questions with leading intros such as, “How do you think most boys would feel about this story?”
a. You might rephrase the question, “How did you feel about the representation of men in this story?”
b. Let both boys and girls weigh in about how gender is portrayed in a given text or work.
- Choose course materials by both men and women
- Avoid separating supplies or materials by gender
Mix costumes and art supplies for younger students rather than dividing them into sections for boys and girls. This will enable students to express themselves creatively without anxiety about adhering to traditional gender roles.
- Be a role model
Children learn by imitation. Behave appropriately with other teachers and students and be coherent with your discourse. Make your own behaviour a role model for others to follow.
- Ask children to draw their idea
Of a fire-fighter, police officer and nurse. Then invite a female fire-fighter and police officer, and a male nurse into the classroom. Invite them to talk about their jobs and unpack the children’s drawings and expectations about the visitors. Always use non-gender specific terms when referring to occupations.
- Woman visibility
Invite women as guest lecturers who can speak about their career and experience to set an example for students.
- Videotape your class to examine your own teaching methods
Review to see if you call on students of both genders, listen as intently to girls as you do to boys, and assess what types of questions you ask to students of each gender.
- Feedback from Colleagues and Students
Get feedback from colleagues on any differences that they might notice and you don’t. Try getting feedback from students through an anonymous comment box.
Such efforts earnestly made in the classrooms will enable us to turn the age-old promises of GENDER EQUALITY into action along with ensuring that we adhere to the agenda of sustainable development goals by 2030 .