How to achieve a conducive environment for adolescent girls’ learning. (16 – 20 January 2017 )
Education is a proven driver of gender equality and sustainable development. Yet girls still have fewer opportunities than boys to gain access to, complete and benefit from quality education.
Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 4, which aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”, reflects the global recognition of the need to address gender inequality in education. Realising these commitments will require tackling the many obstacles facing girls including discriminatory social norms, negative school environments, and concerns around safety and access.
In this context, Wikigender hosted an online discussion with UNESCO from 16-20 January 2017 on the theme “Addressing gender stereotypes in the classroom: how to achieve a conducive environment for adolescent girls’ learning?” The discussion was held in partnership with the Global Partnership for Education, the United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative (UNGEI), Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE), and the Council of Europe.
The discussion concluded with a webinar streamed live on Wikigender with expert participants: Kate Redman (GEM Report team, UNESCO); Liri Kopaçi-Di Michele (Council of Europe); Nora Fyles (UNGEI) and Hendrina Doroba (FAWE). The Webinar was an opportunity to hear directly from experts about work they are currently pursuing and to look ahead at the implementation of the SDGs’ gender and education targets.
How does the learning environment influence adolescent girls’ education outcomes?
- What are some of the recent trends in the development of teaching materials (including textbook content)?
- What are some of the policies, campaigns and initiatives that successfully helped to counter gender stereotypes in school settings?
- Which strategies are more efficient and why? How can we scale them up?
- How can we advocate for a stronger measurement framework and solidify indicators on gender inequality in education, so that we know where progress is being made and where challenges remain?
The importance of addressing gender bias in curriculum
The online discussion began with a presentation of some of the main findings from Textbooks pave the way to sustainable development, produced by the UNESCO Global Education Monitoring (GEM) Report. The findings showed the extent to which secondary school textbooks from the 1950s until 2011 missed or misrepresented key priorities now known as crucial to achieve sustainable development, including gender equality.
Participants agreed that governments need to reassess their textbooks urgently to challenge negative gender stereotypes. Examples included using neutral and inclusive language or having gender- equitable illustrations in textbooks, and participants shared useful resources for policy makers and textbooks revisers in this regard.
The discussion was an opportunity to exchange on successful initiatives to mainstream gender norms in textbooks as well as find to solutions to persistent challenges.
The role of teachers in both perpetuating and challenging gender stereotypes in the classroom
Teachers can play a key role in perpetuating or challenging negative gender stereotypes in the classroom. As participants noted, teachers often unknowingly reinforce divisions between boys and girls in schools, for example by regularly calling on boys instead of girls or assigning classroom tasks along stereotypical lines such as asking girls to clean.
On the other hand, teachers can be allies in the fight to overcome negative gender stereotypes by encouraging girls to participate in class or pursue subjects traditionally perceived as masculine, such as science and math. However, as Martha Muhwezi from FAWE noted, this will require “building the capacities of teachers to use a gender-responsive approach in the teaching and learning process’’.
You can watch the video below on gender stereotypes
Creating a positive and safe school environment to encourage girls’ participation in particular in relation to STEM subjects
Participants raised the issue of subject segregation with few girls pursuing Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects. As the OECD’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) shows, girls and boys show no significant difference in aptitude in these areas.
However, girls are less self-confident than boys in their maths and science problem-solving skills and report stronger feelings of anxiety towards mathematics. As participants noted, this is linked to negative gender stereotypes in the classroom perpetuated by students, teachers and parents.
FAWE’s Gender-Responsive Pedagogy (GRP) model
FAWE’s Gender-responsive Pedagogy Model (GRP) aims to ensure that teachers acquire the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to respond to the learning needs of girls and boys by using gender-aware classroom processes and practices. For example, the integration of GRP in pre-service teacher training colleges in Malawi shifted attitudes and practices of trained teachers, who became more gender-sensitive. One primary school teacher was quoted: “When I plan my lessons, I do it with the girls and boys in mind. If I have six questions, three will be for boys and three for girls. My learners know there is no escape in answering the questions posed”. As a result of GRP, girls also participated more actively, improved their confidence, and their school enrolment increased.
Since FAWE developed the model in 2005, several African countries have applied GRP, reaching over 12,500 teachers through teacher training institutions. Examples shared included Ethiopia, where the GRP model was adapted and integrated in the teacher training curricula and translated in Amharic; and DR Congo, where FAWE’s teacher’s guide on GRP was adapted to the specific context of agricultural technical schools. The adaptation of GRP in different contexts shows its strong potential to foster girls’ access to, participation, and successful completion of their education cycle, free of negative gender stereotypes.