Create a gender inclusive classroom to challenge gender stereotypes

Pressing for progress in the gender parity agenda is not a theme that could have been exhausted within the twenty- four-hour-dictate of a single day for women. Rather, it is a theme whose nurturing will require all our efforts, everyday, until we achieve a society that is more gender inclusive. One of the ways to promote this cause is to get the teachers actively involved.

Lest I am misunderstood, I am not lobbying for teachers to arm themselves with “vuvuzelas” and begin gender street-preaching in the classrooms. The point here is to have teachers more aware of their unwitting actions that are at times discriminative. Given that teachers are products of their societies and can carry with them the gender norms of their communities, for better or for worse, perhaps if they were made aware of such tendencies, they could easily avoid them.

One of such is picking on boys for answers more than the girls. This can be due, in part, to the fact that, in general, boys are more likely to call out answers to questions posed to the class even if they haven’t been called on by the teacher. This trend may also exist because boys are often perceived as being more mischievous, causing teachers to monitor and engage with them actively in class, giving them the chance to speak without permission. Over time, this can discourage female students from speaking up even when they feel like they have something worthwhile to contribute to a discussion.

Even with delegation of responsibilities, sometimes teachers appoint girls to do certain roles considered “feminine” like cleaning the board or being the note-takers in group activities and boys, more “masculine” heavy lifting jobs. Imagine the difference it would make if you allowed the students to choose for themselves what they wanted to do in this regard and challenged statements like “that is for the girls” during work. The students need to be aware that employers do not assign jobs according to gender but according to skills and abilities. In this way, the students are trained to be more tolerant of the opposite gender.

Another difference is in praise and punishment. Girls are often praised for good behaviour, whereas boys are criticised more for bad behaviour in the classroom. While this may seem favourable or even beneficial to female students, this trend actually places a greater emphasis on compliance as being essential to their academic success, rather than simply learning and demonstrating knowledge. In addition, the punishment levied on the same offence sometimes differs according to gender. In rural schools, boys may be asked to slash around while girls mop. What message does this send?

In a nut-shell, students spend much of their time in school and while acquainting them with hands-on skills needed for the job market, we need to equally impart a gender inclusive mindset in them. Otherwise, we will be educating highly skilled citizens with a mentality that a certain gender is just a mare extension of humanity- the deep rooted gender stereotypes must be challenged in all classrooms that free people from ignorance.