Gender in the class

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Anupriyo Mallick

Gender bias pervades all aspects of our lives. In the sphere of teaching, it is generally perceived that women are more proficient because they are kind and usually affectionate. Hence, students connect with them better. Such stereotypical notions cannot be eradicated from society immediately, but can be gradually weakened.
How a school-going child’s life is impacted by his environment, peers, seniors and teachers should be the focal point of any discussion on the prevention of crimes that plague society. After all, children spend around 6 to 7 hours of the day in school.
If educators and policy-makers can address this issue while drafting policy, we can expect a gender-sensitive classroom. Thanks to a couple of initiatives by the Government and other social ventures by non-government organisations, India has initiated certain baby-steps towards a gender-sensitive society.
The education system made substantial progress in terms of gender-sensitive classrooms in 2005 when the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) made an attempt to rectify the chronic depiction of stereotypical gender roles in school textbooks. Till then, women were mostly portrayed in traditional roles such as housewives, mothers, and as personifications of the ‘kind’ and ‘loving’ or ‘cruel’ and ‘evil.’
The most common instances show women in the kitchen or taking care of the family. At another remove, men work to earn a living. Gender is a social construct and school textbooks are one among the many factors that facilitate such constructs.
Therefore, gender violence is a covert way of ensuring acceptance, and not submission. It devolves on publishers to include sociologically and psychologically-sensitive content in textbooks. The curriculum should be gender and disability-sensitive and environmentally-conscious.
In classrooms, teachers often engender an atmosphere which implies that boys, on an average, understand and fare better in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), whereas girls perform better in reading, writing and handicraft. Such classroom discourses result in similar behaviour among kids… each student conforming to his/her respective gender roles.
Indeed, a teacher might be clueless as to how to address discrimination and difference with regard to class, caste, socio-economic background, and so on. It should be mandatory for them to undergo teacher-training courses and programmes.
The National Curriculum Framework 2005 prioritised gender-sensitive education as a means to achieve quality education. CBSE, acting under NCERT’s directives, has designed a kit on gender sensitivity. It includes a handbook, cards and a manual for teachers to equip them with required skills to practice gender-sensitive learning. With such positive reforms, we have started the journey towards a gender-sensitive culture, and we hope to see considerable transformation in the classroom.
Although gender stereotyping in the workplace receives considerable attention, not enough has been done to ensure that such stereotyping does not happen in the classroom. Children are brought up to believe that girls and boys should behave differently and conform to expectations that reinforce stereotypes.
Gender stereotyping in the classroom particularly among younger children, has an adverse impact on the learning abilities and worldview of both boys and girls. For example, teachers may encourage boys to play cricket and football, while girls are encouraged to take up dance, music or art. Boys and girls may be segregated in the classroom through seating arrangements or lined up by gender during the assembly session.
Using terms like ‘good girls’ or ‘smart boy’ again makes the children conscious of their own gender, conveying the impression that gender somehow has a role to play in determining whether they are good, bad, noisy or quiet, etc.
We must nurture an environment in our schools that supports inclusive practices and creates equal opportunities for all children to achieve their full potential, irrespective of their gender. Although it may be easier said than done to eliminate gender stereotyping completely from the classrooms, a clearer understanding of the issue will ensure that it occurs less often, and neither girls nor boys are made to feel that their gender has any role in determining their abilities, goals or achievement levels.
In the classroom, teachers should focus on creating an ambient learning environment where, while differences are respected, the children remain focussed on the learning experiences and are not made conscious of the fact that being a boy or a girl makes any difference to their interests, abilities and growth potential. Here are some ways in which teachers can avoid unintentional gender stereotyping in the classroom.
” It is imperative to adopt a non-biased approach to teaching. There is no real need for children to be referred to as boys or girls. Acknowledge children by their names, and not by gender. Acknowledging them with a “Great answer, James” or “Good job Julia” is much more personal and effective than a “Good boy” which only serves to unconsciously reinforce gender stereotypes. Avoid treating girls and boys differently. Ensure that expectations and the code of conduct are the same for all students.
” There is need to avoid division of labour based on gender stereotypes, such as specifically asking boys to help with lifting articles, while assigning the task of cleaning-up to the girls. Always try to maintain integrated work groups, and try to put both boys and girls in non-traditional roles whenever possible.
” Elective subjects ought not to be based on gender. For example, carpentry classes are preferred by boys, while girls opt for cooking lessons. Mixed-gender workgroups in electives ought to be encouraged.
” Do not make comparisons between boys and girls, pitting boys against girls, etc. Such situations only make children more conscious of their gender, and they are often anxious to prove that boys are better than girls or vice versa.
” Try to keep the language as gender neutral as possible in the classroom. “Police officer” is a much better term than a “policeman”. And students should be encouraged to address their teachers as ‘teacher’ and not as Sir or Madam.
” Try creating positive role models that break away from gender stereotyping. Share stories and real-life examples that help reinforce the concept of gender equity in young minds.
Studies show that children who go to all-boys’ or all-girls’ schools often exhibit a degree of awkwardness when dealing with members of the opposite sex, as adults.
Gender diversity should be encouraged in schools so that young children not only become accustomed to interacting and working with members of the opposite sex in an unbiased environment, but they also acquire a degree of comfort and familiarity in dealing with one another, and eventually realise that gender ceases to matter at all.
The writer is with the Eastern Institute for Integrated Learning in Management (EIILM), Kolkata
(Courtesy: TS)