Sexual maturation is the normal process of growing up, characterized by physical and emotional changes. The rapid body changes that accompany maturation in both boys and girls may be so distracting that they interfere with learning.
Both girls and boys become self-conscious of their bodies and this has an impact on their self-esteem. Moreover, much of the deviant behaviour among boys and girls discussed in Unit 8 becomes more pronounced at this time, as their body and hormonal changes become more evident.
Teachers therefore need to be sensitive and offer appropriate counsel to his/her pupils – both girls and boys as they grow.
The issue of sexual maturation should be carefully examined within the context of teaching and learning processes, as it will affect learning outcomes. For most young girls the monthly menstrual period comes with physical pain and discomfort, as well as fear of ridicule and staining their dresses. There are also those girls who are too poor to afford sanitary towels and who therefore miss school altogether when they are menstruating.
The rate of absenteeism among girls for this reason has been found to be high, as many as three days each month, which amounts to about 30 lessons of one subject per year. Yet the girls are still expected to sit for the same exams as their classmates. However, a gender sensitive teacher (male or female) is expected to take remedial measures to assist such girls to catch up with their classmates.
In addition, often many schools do not have adequate and appropriate infrastructure such as separate sanitary facilities, wash rooms for girls, water, sanitary bins, emergency sanitary wear, pain killers etc. Many girls from poor socio-economic backgrounds will come to school inadequately equipped with sanitary towels and in the course of the day due to heavy ﬂows, stain their uniforms and this will obviously affect their classroom concentration. It is therefore important, for schools to make provision for these items for emergency purposes at school. With the availability of these items, girls will then become more conﬁdent at school and hence reduce absenteeism and dropout rates.
As boys too go through maturation changes, they also go through similar motions of lack of concentration, short attention span and day-dreaming during class sessions. Boys, too, become conscious of their bodies as they mature. Their voices break, their faces break out, they experience wet dreams and unexpected erections.
They may “outgrow themselves” – becoming suddenly tall and muscular making them feel ‘embarrassingly awkward’ especially in primary school where the other learners may have not experienced such physical and biological growth.
These physical changes make them self-conscious and they too become affected in class. Boys also tend to become aggressive because of pressure from their peers and the society.
In many African cultural contexts, both girls and boys often have to go through initiation rites that also encourage them to behave in certain ways to show their maturity. Consequently, a teacher should be well equipped and ensure he/she is in position to handle such situations more so from a gender perspective.
Reﬂection Point: Now that you know about gender issues, what are you going to do differently to reduce absenteeism and dropout cases of girls because of sexual maturation related issues in your school?
Sexual harassment is an unfortunate, often damaging, experience that girls and boys face daily in their school lives. Quite apart from the ultimate forced sexual act, sexual harassment includes abusive language and gestures, sexual advances, touching, passing unwanted notes, and character assassination. The victims are often times silent sufferers, particularly when they are in the same school environment with the perpetrators. Sexual harassment harms both girls and boys physically, psychologically and emotionally. It embarrasses, humiliates and shames the victims.
Teachers, like other members of society, carry the values and attitudes of their society into the classroom. Teachers themselves are also frequently the perpetrators of sexual harassment in the schools. Yet sexual harassment has far reaching implications for the teaching and learning processes. For example, consider a girl who has just been sexually harassed by a male teacher now sitting in class taught by the same teacher. Such a girl will be traumatised and unable to concentrate on her studies. The presence of the perpetrator will bring forth anger, fear and resentment that may hinder learning.
Most education systems do not adequately address the issue of sexual harassment in teacher training. Therefore teachers do not have the necessary skills to detect and handle sexual harassment in the classroom, or even to recognise its impact on teaching and learning. In addition, in case they are the perpetrators, the teachers are not willing to stop the practice.
It is therefore important for every teacher to create a conducive classroom learning environment that is free of all forms of sexual harassment. This starts with the teachers themselves as educators exercising sexual self-control and avoiding any situation that may lead to sexual harassment. Because of the negative attitudes and practices in the African cultural set up, such as forced marriage, abduction and considering women as sexual objects, sexual harassment is unfortunately viewed as part of normal practice and is therefore widely tolerated in schools and society in general.
Girls are particularly vulnerable, rendering them exposed to early pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections and HIV and AIDS. A teacher must therefore, be conscious and see themselves as guardians and remember that they are responsible for the pupils’ safety, welfare and wellbeing both in and outside school. He/she must, as well, make it absolutely clear that they will not tolerate such activity in their classrooms.
Below is a video on mainstreaming gender concerns