'Girls' and 'boys' in the classroom
March 11, 2008: Education plays a vital role in shaping, questioning and reinforcing the
identities of boys and girls in addition to clearing their perceptions on gender
relations and equality. The early school years of a child are particularly
important in this regard. They are at a critical age at this time, identifying
themselves as a part of a specific gender group along with gaining certain
beliefs, perceptions and expectations from society. In the process of forming
gender identity, children find themselves under pressure from peers, family as
well as society at large to conform to the exercising gender
There is empirical support that people have certain
expectations from females in the early years. This support is primarily been
found in the literature on gender stereotypes (Ben, 1974; Eagly, 1978; Martin,
1990; Ruble, 1978).
However, schools have the responsibility to question
the processes that promote unequal gender relations and to adopt practices that
help break stereotypical images of man and woman regarding their roles and
responsibilities in society.
Within the school, the teacher's role is
important to break the gender stereotyping of boys and girls. However, the
schooling process often reinforces the already existent stereotypes that we see
around us in society but do not question. Marshal (1997) rightly says that
classrooms are the microcosm of society and distorted pictures of gender
stereotyping are reflected in the classroom. The teacher's role is very
important in this process of reinforcement of gender stereotyping.
stereotyping in our country is most often fostered by teachers in the classroom.
The language and the teaching strategy used in class with the goal to increase
gender equality within the classroom is proving harmful for the gender
construction of the students. One such practice I saw on my visit to a private
school in Karachi to analyse how gender construction is taking place within the
school environment. In class two, the teacher ensures equal gender participation
by alternating between male and female students to work problems on the
blackboard. "We need a girl to work the next problem," she says.
gender as a label for students and organising the classroom can lead to negative
consequences. Moreover, I observed that teachers use gendered terms in the
classroom - boys, girls, men and women - without thinking about their impact.
Research suggests that such language draws children's attention to gender
instead of important characteristics of each other such as their personalities
or skills. Specially in English-medium schools, the teacher constantly uses
"Him/Her" or "He/She" while teaching and verbally interacting with the student
in the school. This practice of using "He/She" or "Him/Her" in verbal and
written English is considered the "gendered inclusive" language.
there are some physiological empirical studies which suggest that constant and
intentional use of such language instead of bridging the gender gap further
widens the gap in the minds of the students. This may also lead children to
believe that teachers are intentionally signaling the existence of important
differences between the genders. Finally, such gendered beliefs infused in the
minds of young children bring deep-rooted psychological and emotional impact on
their gender orientation during the school year.
Few efforts have been
made in the Pakistani context to understand and know what kind of beliefs and
perceptions teachers have about girls and boys and how these impact classroom
Conducted by Bernadette L. Dean, Rahat Joldoshalieva
and Abid Hussainy on the government, private, urban and rural schools of
Karachi, The Role of Schooling in Constructing Gendered Identities is a recently
published research in an international journal. The study suggests that teachers
have gendered bias perceptions about boys and girls. Such perceptions have an
evident impact on their teaching practices, resulting in the stereotyping of
The findings of the study suggest that the
teachers believe that boys are naturally intelligent whereas girls must work
hard to succeed. They believe that boys' IQs are higher than girls' and,
therefore, they learn much more quickly than girls. They claimed, "The IQ level
of boys is better as compared to the girls despite the fact that they live in
the same environment, are exposed to the same media and study in the same
schools. The girls, despite the fact that they live in the same environment, are
exposed to the same media and study in the same schools, are not as smart as
The teachers' beliefs consequently influenced their classroom
practices. Such biased gendered beliefs impact their classroom practices, keep
girls on task in the classroom, gives them homework and insist that they work
hard to achieve good results. The study findings further suggest that teachers
think that boys are more confident and girls are deficient in confidence. Girls
were described as more cooperative and less competitive than
Teachers also felt that boys competed in all spheres of life while
girls were generally cooperative only competing on academic tasks. The teachers
believed that gender roles and responsibilities are fixed: men have to earn a
living to support the family and women were responsible for home making. Even if
girls went out to work, it would still be their responsibility to look after the
home as women are known to be responsible for it. For preparing the girls for
their future responsibilities in the school they are assigned the task to clean
the rooms, the findings suggest.
Moreover, the boys understood their main
role and responsibility to be the breadwinner and that of girls to stay home and
take care of the children. They see education as a way of preparing them for
The findings of the studies are adequate to suggest that girls
and boys while even studying together are being prepared for different roles and
responsibilities stereotypically associated with both genders. These findings
are being supported by Sadkar (1994) who suggests that sitting in the same
classroom, reading the same book, listening to the same teacher, the boys and
girls are receiving a very different education. However, research suggests that
generally teachers are not even aware of their biased gender teaching habits.
They simply teach as they were taught themselves.
This research study is
an eye opener for those sitting in the power echelons of the education
department and are responsible for the making and implementing of policies.
While the government makes high rhetoric that women are being empowered in all
spheres of life, young girls and boys are being gendered stereotyped by the
Therefore, it is highly recommended in the research report that
school leaders (head teachers and teachers) and staff should be educated about
genders and the importance of schools in promoting gender equality.
order to make themselves gender-fair, all schools should have a gender policy
(dealing with physical infrastructure, teacher substitution and leave), an
implementation plan and monitoring strategies. Teachers should choose textbooks
that are gender fair, use variety of instructional strategies to accommodate
different learning needs and styles, and use gender-friendly language. Moreover,
all teacher educators should be gender sensitised through re-orientation courses
and "Gender in Education" should be the core of all courses in education
programmes for teachers.
However, with reference to the priorities of
teacher-training institutes, very few are focusing on the inclusion of a "Gender
in Education" course. Therefore, our policy makers, educationists and political
leadership should come forward to address the issue of gender stereotyping in
schools, so that half of our excluded population may also play its required role
in the process of development.
By Shafqat Hussain (Dawn)
The writer is former lecturer of Pakistan Studies
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