According to Sadker (1994), boys and girls sit in the same classroom, read the same textbooks, listen to the same teachers, but they receive very different educations.
Partly, this problem is as a result of gender bias embedded in our education setting including curriculum that shape our teaching and learning processes.
It’s the same curriculum that guides and determines the focus of how teaching materials including textbooks are developed.
There is no doubt that modern time dictates that we spend more time in school institutions possibly than any other place. In some instances learning institutions have replaced homes as first contacts of socialisation.
It’s therefore not surprising that we now talk of many day care centres, baby centres, kindergarten, nursery schools and then mainstream primary, secondary and higher institutions of learning.
Some of these day care centres accept babies as young as one year or even below, so in effect they become caretakers and caregivers to our children. This is true to some parents and realistically so given the demands of modern times in terms of jobs, business, professional and career development demands among others.
Given such realities, schools and learning institutions become obvious first choices of socialisation for the children and thereby shaping their values and life perspectives including gender roles.
It’s against this backdrop that teachers and curriculum developers need to be aware of their influence on integrating promoting best gender practices in their respective capacities.
Teachers would be important agents for enhancing and infusing gender equity in a class room setting- but how much do our teachers know about gender biases in a school setting?
Teachers are generally unaware of their own biased teaching behaviors because they are simply teaching how they were taught and the subtle gender inequities found in teaching materials are often overlooked.
Girls and boys today are receiving separate and unequal educations due to the gender socialisation that takes place in our schools and due to the sexist hidden curriculum students are faced with every day.
Unless teachers and curriculum developers are made aware of the gender-role socialisation and the biased messages they are unintentionally imparting to students every day, and until teachers are provided with the methods and resources necessary to eliminate gender-bias in their classrooms, girls will continue to receive an inequitable education.
In their study focusing on how the effects of a gender resource model would affect gender-biased teaching behaviours, Jones, Evans, Burns, and Campbell (2000) provided teachers with a self-directed module aimed at reducing gender bias in the classroom.
The module contained research on gender equity in the classroom, specific activities to reduce stereotypical thinking in students, and self-evaluation worksheets for teachers.
The findings from this study support the hypothesis that “...female students would move from a position of relative deficiency toward more equity in total interactions....”
Beyond teachers and their fortuitous gender biases in classroom, curriculum developers also need to be aware of the gender bias imbedded in many educational materials and texts and need to take steps to combat such biases.
There are six attributes that need to be considered when trying to establish a gender-equitable curriculum. Gender-fair materials need to acknowledge and affirm these variations.
They need to be inclusive, accurate, affirmative, representative, and integrated, weaving together the experiences, needs, and interests of both males and females. We need to look at the stories we are telling our learners and children.
McCormick ( 1995) maintains “far too many of our classroom examples, storybooks, and texts describe a world in which boys and men are bright, curious, brave, inventive, and powerful, but girls and women are silent, passive, and invisible.”
Curriculum departments and curriculum developers should provide mandatory gender-equity resource modules to both in-service teachers, and gender bias needs to be addressed with all pre-service teachers.
Teachers and educators need to be made aware of the bias they are reinforcing in their students through socialisation messages, inequitable division of special education services, sexist texts and materials, and unbalanced time and types of attention spent on boys and girls in the classroom.
Until educational sexism is eradicated, teachers made aware of their roles in enhancing gender equity and curriculum developers start to cautiously focus on curriculum that is gender responsive, more than half of our children will be shortchanged and their gifts and competencies lost in the middle of no where!
The writer is an educationist, author and publisher.