Students and teachers develop gender awareness in a Child-Friendly School
Developing gender responsiveness in schools is a challenging dimension of Child-Friendly Schools. If parity or near parity exists between the number of girls and boys in a school, stakeholders often maintain that “gender is not an issue in our school.” A 2004 evaluation of Child-Friendly Schools in one region of the world found that gender responsiveness was the one dimension most frequently left out of planning (Bernard, 2004). Because the country and much of the region of Central and Eastern Europe have enjoyed high enrolment rates and parity or near parity between the numbers of girls and boys in primary school for decades, how to explore issues of gender bias and gender awareness was a challenge for the CFS national-level experts/trainers.
The Macedonian CFS researchers and trainers decided that the curriculum would be one of the first areas to which teachers would turn to think about gender bias in schools. For the baseline study that was conducted when the project was first launched, the researchers examined history textbooks and found few women featured in the books. Based on this information, when the trainers offered CFS training to teachers in the five pilot schools, they taught the teachers how to analyse the textbooks for gender bias. Then they taught the teachers how to help the children analyse their own textbooks, and the teachers developed a strategy that included child-centred projects in which students could participate and learn to ‘re-vision’ history from a gender-responsive perspective.
Teachers energetically discussed the outcomes of these activities in the CFS pilot school workshops. Twenty-eight teachers from the six CFS teacher working groups in a Bitola primary school met on a Saturday to discuss what students in their classrooms were doing related to the six CFS dimensions. The following text is adapted from the teacher leader’s report for the teacher working group on gender responsiveness:
We analysed women in history – not only women in the country but in the whole world – and how they have a role in history. Children in Grades 6, 7 and 8 did research and made posters. We gathered all children to identify the location of where to put the posters and decided on a central location so they would be visible to all. We analysed the textbooks of Grades 5–8 using a list of questions to guide our analysis of the content. We followed what other CFS schools have done: After the review done by the teachers, we did it together with the children. We involved the children in the history.
What was the outcome of this exercise? We noticed there are too few women represented in the materials. This creates a gender imbalance and there are too few women role models with whom girls can identify. “The children were so happy with this exercise!,” one teacher said. “They were very happy to be involved in this activity.” But we have some questions: Why doesn’t someone pay attention to this when the textbooks are being written? A female teacher answered, “One reason is that more men are writing these books. Women do not write as much as men do. Women’s role is to work at home and cook in the kitchen. The purpose of this activity is to build children’s skills for critical analysis as well as to ‘open the window’ so that children think about stereotypes. So now, after this, we have some awareness of the issues.”
The teachers continued to discuss what to do with gender-biased textbooks. One teacher said she is more flexible in her selection of materials to teach history. Another said she could not skip the textbook completely or children would be curious about why she did: “If I have time to analyse the textbook in advance, fine. If not, sometimes just by asking student the questions I have done enough.” Another disagreed: “The child takes the textbook home and reads it there. The history textbooks are full of stereotypes. I can do my best for three hours.”
A male teacher shook his head and said, “But we went through the whole curriculum and there was only Cleopatra – the textbook only had her!” A CFS team member suggested making an analogy to the classroom in order to illustrate this gender bias for students. Ask them, “If we have only two girls in the classroom, is that enough?” And, “How can we make sure that not only girls are watering the flowers?”
A history teacher said, “Let’s think about the next step: Begin by writing a letter to the Bureau for Education Development. It won’t be effective if only teachers from these five schools send a letter. But it’s a start. We can also write to the newspaper and let others know about this.”
The Vignette Students and teachers develop gender awareness in a Child-Friendly School is from Child Friendly School Case Study: Macedonia (2009)