For a gender-sensitive society, reforms have to begin early -in the classroom Gender bias pervades all aspects of our lives. To cite the example of teaching, it is perceived that women are more proficient in this profession because they are kind and loving. Hence, students connect with them better. Such stereotypical notions cannot be eradicated from society immediately, but can be gradually weakened.
How a school-goers' life is impacted by his environment, peers, seniors and teachers should be the focal point of any discussion on the prevention of crimes plaguing society. After all, children spend around six to seven hours of their day in school. If educators and policy-makers take it upon themselves to address this issue while drafting education policies, we can expect a gender-sensitive classroom. Thanks to a couple of initiatives by the government and other social ventures by non-government bodies, India has started taking baby steps towards a gender sensitive-society.
The education system made substantial progress with regard to gender-sensitive classrooms in 2005 when National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) made an attempt to rectify the chronic depiction of stereotypical gender roles in school textbooks. Till then, women were mostly portrayed in traditional roles such as housewives, mothers, and as representatives of stereotypical characteristics like 'kind' and 'loving' or 'cruel' and 'evil.'
The most common instances show women in the kitchen or taking care of the family and men working to earn a living. Gender is a social construct and school textbooks are one among the many sources facilitating such constructs. Therefore, this kind of gender violence is a covert way of bringing in not submission but acceptance. Publishers should take care to include sociologically and psychologically-sensitive content in textbooks. The curriculum should be gender and disability-sensitive and environmentally-aware.
In classrooms, teachers often breed an atmosphere which implies that boys, on an average, understand and fare better in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM), whereas girls perform better in reading, writing and handicraft. Such classroom discourses result in similar behavior among kids - each student conforming to their respective gender roles.
"The teacher asked us to laugh and talk in a ladylike manner," said Ritika Srivastav, a grade VI student, when I met her at a national conference. It is sad that instead of probing students to question stereotypes, teachers enforce them on children.
The lag in teacher training comes in the way of a gender-sensitive classroom. They are not trained to do justice to gender-sensitive textbooks. The curriculum has been updated, but the syllabus of Bachelor of Education remains the same. Teachers need to understand the importance of providing a friendly and non-threatening learning environment for all learners to thrive.
In fact, a teacher might merely be clueless as to how to address discrimination and difference with regard to class, caste, socio-economic background, and so on. It should be mandatory for them to undergo teacher-training courses and programmes.
The National Curriculum Framework 2005 prioritizes gender-sensitive education as a means to attaining quality education. CBSE, acting under NCERT's directives, has designed a kit on gender sensitivity. It includes a handbook, cards and a manual for teachers to equip them with required skills to practice gender-sensitive learning. With such positive reforms our way, we have started the journey towards a gender-sensitive culture, and we hope to see considerable transformation in the classroom.
The writer is CEO and Co-founder, Next Education India Pvt. Ltd www.thehindu.com
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