Gender Bias In Education Essay Topics
1. Gender equality as a goal of inclusive education
1.3 The index for inclusion
1.4 The Austrian AHS curriculum
2. Student gender in the classroom:
2.1 Classroom Discourse
2.3 Teacher’s attitudes towards student gender
3. Steps towards gender-fair education
3.1 Applying the Index for Inclusion
3.2 Curriculum Projects
3.3 Teacher education
5. Reflexion Questions
The promotion of gender equality has been one of the main goals of inclusive education for several decades. Nevertheless, the distribution of male and female students in education is still very unbalanced. Hey (2010) summarized the problematic situation as follows: The last 100 years have seen a strong equalisation in terms of rights and duties of the two genders. Women’s rights, access to education, labour participation have quickly matched those of men. (…) And yet, vast differences in equal opportunities remained to exist to date. Typical examples would be: strongly gender-segregated selection of teaching content, clear split of the labour market into branches with overproportional shares of women or men, (…) and undeniably high wage differences between women and men across Europe. Overall, real equal opportunities only occur in certain stages and areas of life (Hey 2010: 7).
Research suggests that classroom discourse, course books and teacher’s attitudes towards student gender are some of the major influences that foster student’s interest and confidence in a subject. Therefore, the aim of this paper is to identify practices that hinder gender equality and thereby inclusive education for all learners in the primary and secondary classroom discourse. I will first give an overview of the implementation of gender equality as a goal of inclusive education. Next, I will review practices that promote gender inequality within educational institutions, including classroom discourse, course books and teachers’ attitudes towards student gender. Finally, I will offer and discuss possible measures to be taken by schools and teachers to achieve practices that are correspondent with gender equality in order to achieve the goal of inclusion of both genders within primary and secondary education.
1. Gender equality as a goal of inclusive education
The importance of gender equality as a goal of inclusive education is evident when looking at its manifestation within official documents devised by UN agencies and other institutions to offer guidance and goals for achieving inclusive education for parents, educators and governments. A selection of these documents will be reviewed in the following section.
UNICEF (United Nations Children’s Fund) identifies gender equality as a basis for quality education: “When all children have access to a quality education rooted in human rights and gender equality, it creates a ripple effect of opportunity that influences generations to come.”(http://www.unicef.org/education/bege_70640.html)
In addition to the gender-gap in attending primary education, UNICEF further addresses the issue of gender inequality and gender discrimination within secondary education: “While gender parity has improved, barriers and bottlenecks around gender disparities and discrimination remain in place, especially at the secondary school level.” (ibid.)
As the lead agency for the ‘Education for All’ – movement (…), UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) adopted six goals for education during the World Education Forum held in Dakar, Senegal, in April 2000. In the forum, the international community “identified six key education goals which aim to meet the learning needs of all children, youth and adults by 2015” (…). All of these goals focus of equality and inclusion within education. The following two goals are especially relevant for achieving gender equality and the inclusion of both genders within primary and secondary education:
Ensuring that by 2015 all children, particularly girls, children in difficult circumstances and those belonging to ethnic minorities, have access to, and complete, free and compulsory primary education of good quality.
Goal 5 Eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005, and achieving gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girls’ full and equal access to and achievement in basic education of good quality.
By referring to the 2003 ‘Education for All’ - report, Koichiro Matsuura, the Director-General of UNESCO at that time, points out that while the goal of offering access to schools for both girls and boys has made great progress, the issue of gender inequality within education still needs more attention:
However, achieving equality throughout education is more profoundly challenging. Educational inequality is caused by deeper forces in society that extend well beyond the boundaries of educational systems, institutions and processes. The report demonstrates that changes in a wide range of economic and social policies – as well as in education itself – will be needed if gender equality in education is to be attained (Matsuura 2003: 5).
UNESCO further suggests that the causes for gender inequality within education can be found in national curricula: “An inclusive curriculum takes gender, cultural identity and language background into consideration. It involves breaking gender stereotypes not only in textbooks but in teachers’ attitudes and expectations.”
1.3 The index for inclusion
The index for inclusion identifies Institutional Discrimination as a barrier for learning which must be eliminated to achieve inclusive education. According to its definition, Institutional Discrimination also includes discriminating people because of their gender. In the following section of the index, Institutional Discrimination and its impact on learning is explained:
Institutional discrimination is deeply embedded within cultures and influences the way people are perceived and the responses that are mad to them, including the way staff are appointed. Institutional discrimination is much wider than racism. It includes the ways institutions may disadvantage people because of their gender, disability, class, ethnicity and sexual orientation. It is a barrier to participation and in education may impede learning.” (Booth and Ainscow 2002: 7)
The index further offers suggestions for schools on how to eliminate such discrimination to include both genders equally:
DIMENSION A: Creating inclusive cultures
A.2 Establishing inclusive values
- Indicator A.2.6 The school strives to minimize all forms of discrimination
VIII) Do staff and students avoid gender stereotyping in expectations about achievement, student futures on in help with tasks, such as refreshments or technical support? (Booth and Ainscow 2002: 44)
DIMENSON C: Evolving inclusive practices
C.1 Orchestrating Learning
- Indicator C.1.7 Classroom discipline is based on mutual respect
IX) Do students feel that they are treated fairly irrespective of gender or ethnicity? (Booth and Ainscow 2002: 76)
However, the index also includes the following indicator that, in fact, hinders the inclusion of both genders within extra-curricula activities:
- Indicator C.1.11 All students take part in activities outside the classroom
IV) Can boys and girls take part in single-sex groups if there are activities in which one gender predominates, such as computer club, chess club, or choir? (Booth and Ainscow 2002: 54)
1.4 The Austrian AHS curriculum
The Austrian AHS curriculum requires teachers to recognize possible content and practices that harden gender role clichés and calls for elimination of such gender-specific prejudice and discrimination:
Erkennen möglicher Beiträge zur Tradierung und Verfestigung von Rollenklischees im Lebensfeld Schule (und anderer Lebensfelder) durch Lehrinhalte, Unterrichtsmittel und Verhaltensweisen aller Schulpartner.
Förderung der Bereitschaft zum Abbau von geschlechtsspezifischen Vorurteilen und Benachteiligungen, Förderung bzw. Ausgleich von Defiziten in Bezug auf sozialkooperative Verhaltensweisen und Selbstvertrauen sowie Förderung des partnerschaftlichen Verhaltens von Buben und Mädchen.
2. Student gender in the classroom:
In the following section of the paper, instances of student-gender specific practices within educational environments will be discussed, including classroom discourse, course-books and teachers’ attitudes towards student gender.
2.1 Classroom Discourse
When we talk about gender in the classroom, it is essential to understand that “The relation between gender and language is bi-directional; that is, gender is reflected by language and language helps to shape gender” (Aydinoglu 2014: 233). In other words, gender is constructed and reflected by language. Therefore, looking at the language discourse within a classroom gives us insight into the ways in which student gender is treated within this language discourse. Several researchers have investigated the influence of student gender on the classroom discourse and found that in most cases, one student gender dominated and the other one was being deprived from learning opportunities. Several of these studies will be reviewed in this section of the paper.
Research on language and gender in the second language classroom from the 1970s and 1980s was concerned with the amount of teacher attention male and female learners receive. Many of these studies showed that teachers tend to talk significantly more to male students than to females (e.g. Hillmann and Davenport 1987, Spender 1988, Kelly 1988). This concern over the little amount of attention girls received was raised by the well-founded assumption that more teacher attention results in more and better learning opportunities. In a meta-analysis of 81 studies, Kelly found that “boys (…) get more instructional contacts, more high level questions, more academic criticism and slightly more praise than girls” (Kelly 1988: 20).
In an investigation of her own classroom, Spender (1982: 29) found that she was spending 38% of the time interacting with her female learners, while she offered the majority of her attention to her male students. Spender was also alarmed by her own perception of classroom interaction, as she presumed she was spending more time with her female learners. She therefore concluded that teachers’ individual perceptions are unreliable.
Findings of Julè’s (2005) study displayed that not only does the teacher offer more attention to male learners, but also directs significantly more questions and elicitations to boys within the discourse. These findings are in accordance with Kelly`s (1988) studies, who found that within English as a second language lessons, male students receive more “high level questions” (Kelly 1988: 29) than female learners do. In contrast, Jane Sunderland found that girls were being asked questions that required longer answers (Sunderland 2000: 162). More specifically, she reported that “in relation to boys, girls were asked a greater proportion of academic solicits to which they were expected to respond in the target language (as well as) a greater proportion of question which required an answer or more than one word (ibid). Therefore, Sunderland proposed that female learners are being constructed the more academic learners, which illustrates that “while boys may appear to dominate the classroom in one sense, girls may dominate it in another” (Sunderland 2000: 162).
Concerning student-teacher interaction, several studies have shown that male students seem to dominate oral participatory activities (e.g. Batters 1987). Allyson Julè found that there is a significant disproportion of linguistic space in classrooms, i.e. the amount of time somebody occupies with their talk within oral discourse. In her case study, she found that boys took up 88.3% of the linguistic space (Julè 2005: 30). In fact, many researchers have been concerned with the ‘silence of girls’ within classroom discourse, as they assume that more linguistic space results in more learning opportunities. Stanworth (1981, as quoted in Julè 2005: 27) states that male leaners interrupt themselves, the teacher and female students by far more often than female students do and attributes this male discourse feature to the desire of dominating oral discourse.
Reviewing the presented studies, it seems that male learners have been proven to dominate the classroom discourse and thereby depriving their female peers from learning opportunities. Nevertheless, one has to keep in mind that most of these studies were carried out in single classrooms and base their findings on small case studies carried out in traditional, teacher-led learning environments. Therefore, one has to be careful with making generalizations about gender inequalities within the language discourse. However, it cannot be denied that, linguistically speaking, being male is an advantage when it comes to learning opportunities.
Aydinoglu explains that “coursebooks are important as tools of learning a (…) language and (…) culture. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to maintain gender equality in them to enhance gender equality in life.” (2014: 233). In her study, she investigated “how gender is embedded into English teaching course books in the first four-year period of state schools in Turkey and to discuss whether gender is explicitly or implicitly presented” (ibid.) and found that “Almost all research in the world and in Turkey agrees that there is bias in favour of men in the coursebooks” (ibid. 234).
In a study that investigated the visual material of two textbook series, Arikan found that “women are underrepresented in these visual materials (29.80% females versus 70.20% males)” (2005: 36). He further explains that “activities related to child rearing and doing housework are associated with women and the father is depicted as the head of the family often sitting and watching the activity in the house in which the mother is taking care of the children (…) the family around the table listen to the father who is doing the talking” (ibid).
Söylemez (2011: 249, as quoted in Aydinoglu 2014: 234) investigated the use of English adjectives for describing male vs. female characters in three different textbook series for different language levels. Her findings show that more adjectives are used to describe the physical appearance of female characters and the beauty and attractiveness of women were focused. When it comes to personality, the adjectives with negative connotations (…) are more common with females, (…) adjectives used for female modify more extreme and exaggerated feelings (…) and adjectives such as famous and rich are attributed to male characters. (Aydinoglu 2014: 234)
At the same time, the adjective ‘intelligent’ is used to describe intellectual females, while males are described with more extended vocabulary, such as as “brilliant, bright, clever and genius” (Söylemez 2011: 250). Aydinoglu concludes that “Education is considered to be the best way to improve gender equality but the language used for education can unintentionally reinforce gender inequality, stereotypes and sex segregation. Therefore, it is crucial that the language in the textbooks should be devoid of gender bias and this is, of course, true of the textbooks written to teach a foreign language” (2014: 239).
In an analysis of Asian history books used in the Philippines, Saigol (1995) found that the texts in the books represent a patriarchal and therefore gender-biased construction of gender. The study showed that men and women were continuously represented in certain roles: “women as mothers and wives, for example, who have to sew, weave, cook, clean, and take care of children; and men as soldiers, leaders, and citizens” (Saigol 1995, as quoted in Quezada-Reyes 2007: 91). In a similar study of Asian textbooks, Fernandez (1998) found that None of the textbooks examined show the role of women in nation building, except when they become national leaders after their husbands (or fathers) are assassinated. (…) Otherwise, women are portrayed as housewives and mothers who submit to their husbands. (…) Women (…) are objects to male desire with no needs of their own as individuals. (Fernandez 1998, as quoted in Quezada-Reyes 2007: 90-91) In her meta-analysis, Quezada-Reyes herself came to the conclusion that “judging from what is written in history books, one would be led to conclude that (…) (w)omen do nothing but watch while men single-handedly make history as conquering heroes, national liberators, victorious generals, benevolent monarchs, wise law-givers and some such” (Quezada Reyes 2007: 90). She further points out that it is essential to teachers notice such gender-biased constructions and indicate such to their students (ibid. 93).
It seems that stereotypical representations of men and women can be found in various school books for different school types. It is unrealistic to assume that a text that has been produced to educate learners will ever be a hundred percent gender- bias free. Therefore, it is the responsibility of each teacher to carefully review the material s/he offers to the learners and point out possible gender-insensitivities to make the students aware of gender-stereotypical wording and visual representations.
2.3 Teacher’s attitudes towards student gender
Cho points out that “Recent explanations addressing the gender gaps observed in children's academic achievement often emphasize the important role of teachers. For instance, numerous studies have claimed that teacher–student interactions benefit one sex at the expense of the other” (Cho 2012: 55). Cho further argues that studies have indicated that learners experience different interactions with male and female teachers. Nevertheless, “there is little evidence of systematic discrimination against students by teachers of the opposite sex” (ibid). In fact, Van Houtte (2007) found that male teachers seem to prefer working with female students: “boys, in general, are given more attention than girls, but at the upper level male teachers pay relatively more attention to female pupils” (2007: 828).
Warrington and Younger (2000) report that generally, “teachers prefer boys, because they consider boys to be less catty and sly, more open to reason, more honest, a more interesting audience” (Van Houtte 2007: 828). At the same time, teachers tend to have “higher normative and academic expectations for girls than for girls. Teachers prefer pupils who are responsible, punctual, and cooperative, traits that are more characteristic of girls than of boys” (ibid.).
However, the relationship between teachers and female students is generally considered “closer and less conflictual” (Van Houtte 2007: ibid.) than teacher- student relationships to boys.
This paradox of teachers’ attitudes towards male and female learners has been describes by Kruse (1996) as follows: “Although teachers often have problems controlling boys’ behavior, they usually have a positive view of boys. But teachers, female as well as male, are often ambivalent in their opinions of girls.” (Kruse 1996, as quoted in Warrington and Younger 2000: 505). In their own case study, Warrington and Younger found that in some schools, “this ambivalence was expressed in terms of apology about the high achievements of girls and sympathy for the plight of boys as they struggled to cope with emancipated women and very successful girls who made them feel inadequate!” (Warrington and Younger 2000: 506).
Moreover, in some schools, especially older teachers share the impression that boys had some sort of intuitive capacity which gave them the potential to achieve better than the girls, if only they devoted themselves to the work. (…) There was at times a concealed admiration for these boys, a sense of alliance with them, almost pride in the high ability underachieving boys who at times pulled it off and achieved high grades seemingly without effort. (Warrington and Younger 2000: 505) Another (partly unconscious) attitude towards male and female learners can be summarized by the following comment by a (male) teacher who was asked to describe his impression of his student’s gender-specific competence: “Boys aren’t as good at completing all the written work, but any sort of scientific work, they can cope much better than the girls. Boys frequently present more original work, whereas girls copy sentences from textbooks, write much more, take a greater pride in their work” (ibid.).
Another phenomenon that relates to this problem within teacher-student relations is the Pygmalion Effect (Rosenthal and Jacobson 1968). This effect suggests that “a teacher of the same gender may positively influences students’ outcomes by communicating with them more effectively, by showing high expectations for enhanced performance or by being a good role model” (Cho 2012: 56). Moreover, Cho points out that teachers of the opposite gender may cause harmful impact on the students’ performance by “strengthening the pressure of negative stereotypes” (Steele 1997, as quoted in Cho 2012: 56). Nevertheless, Delamont (1990, as quoted in Cahill and Adams 1997: 518) suggests that the teacher’s perceptions of their students’ gender has influence on the teachers’ behavior which in turn shapes the learner’s self-perceived gender role behavior (ibid.)
Cahill and Adams (1997: 518) argue that “There is empirical support for the concept that people have expectations about female and male characteristics, and this support has been found primarily in the literature on gender stereotypes”. Likewise, Fagot (1984, as quoted in Cahill and Adams 1997: 518) found that some teachers “used gender role stereotypes to guide their behavior with children, particularly when they did not know a child well, or if the child was pre-verbal” (Cahill and Adams 1997: 518). These results indicate that stereotypes are used in the classroom to guide the teacher’s behavior and attitude towards student.
It seems that, even though boys are generally seen as more ‘problematic’ in the classroom in terms of disciplinary behavior, teachers still have the ‘silent’ feeling that male learners are in fact more capable of delivering original work and would be better than girls if they just put enough time into it. Girls on the other hand are perceived as obeying and unoriginal. The question arises whether or not these (partly unconscious) assumptions are actually based on the actual behavior of the students, or whether they are simply ideas based on gender prejudice and stereotypes. Either way, spreading knowledge about these gender-specific classroom discourse patterns among fellow educators is the first step towards eliminating these in the classroom.
3. Steps towards gender-fair education
In the following section, possible measures to achieving a gender-fair learning environment will be presented and discussed.
3.1 Applying the Index for Inclusion
First and foremost, the most important step towards making classrooms more gender-inclusive is raising awareness about the sometimes unconscious practices of gender inequality within classrooms among educators including headmasters, teachers and teacher-trainees. As mentioned before, the Index for Inclusion is a tool designed to help educators identify uninclusive practices in their school environment. The following guiding questions in the Index for Inclusion offer guidance for educators to make sure the school is including both genders equally:
VIII) Do staff and students avoid gender stereotyping in expectations about achievement, student futures on in help with tasks, such as refreshments or technical support? (Booth and Ainscow 2002: 54) II) Do the promoted posts reflect the balance of genders and backgrounds of staff in the school? (ibid. 55)
III) Is the unauthorized absence of students treated equitably irrespective of gender and background? (ibid. 68)
IX) Do students feel that they are treated fairly irrespective of gender or ethnicity? (ibid. 76)
Of course, it is up to each teacher whether or not s/he is willing to work with the Index of Inclusion and make the effort to try to make schools more inclusive and it is difficult to control this. However, it is my firm belief that each and every one of us (future) teachers is not only legally, but morally obliged to trying to create a learning environment that is free of gender discrimination.
3.2 Curriculum Projects
In the 1980s, researchers found that “career expectations and subject choices were structured along traditional gender lines, to the disadvantage of girls (e.g. Deem 1980, Griffin 1985, as quoted in Warrington and Younger 2000: 493). It has also been demonstrated that this trend was partly due to the hidden curriculum, which “contributed to the reinforcement of sex roles” (ibid.). The concept of the hidden curriculum is defined as an involuntary side effect of education, "[lessons] which are learned but not openly intended” (Martin 1983: 23) such as the transmission of norms, values, and beliefs conveyed in the classroom and the social environment (Giroux et al. 1983: 101). In order to eliminate these effects, the University of Graz has published guidelines on gender fair curriculum development, in which the importance of school curricula for gender equality within education is explained as follows: “Curricula hold the potential to enhance the inequality of opportunities existing in society, to address one gender more strongly than the other, to generate unequal success opportunities, and even to strengthen the already existing gender role stereotypes” (Hey 2010:6). Hey further explains that the content that is being taught itself “can help accentuate the inequality of opportunities” (Hey 2010:8).
Similarly, in an intent to reform the gender-biased state curriculum, the Australian Education Council started the Gender Equity in Curriculum Reform Project on the “premise that the current curriculum in Australian schools was not (is not) serving the interests of females as well as those of males” (Davis 1995: 1). The project was aimed to ensure that national curriculum statements, profiles, and associated resource materials:
- avoided past exclusion of the needs, interests and entitlements of girls;
- acted equally in the interests of girls and boys; and
- contributed to achieving equality for women and men in private and public life, including paid and unpaid employment. (ibid)
Davis reports that “[o]ne of the key activities of this project was the employment of gender equity consultants to work with each of the eight National Curriculum writing teams.” These principles are now included within the National Curriculum, which legally binds teachers to teach accordingly. However, it is hard to prove and control whether his is actually happening or not.
3.3 Teacher education
In 2002, The Swedish National Agency for School improvement founded courses within teacher education with the purpose of creating “a more gender equal situation in Swedish schools” Nilsson 2007:2). The aim of these courses were to educate teachers as ‘resource persons’ that are able to “work with gender equality issues in the pedagogical practice in order to increase the quality and goal fulfilment within the field of education. The aim was that there should be one educated gender pedagogue in every Swedish community at the end of 2004” (ibid). Teacher trainees who were interested in attending these courses received insight into gender studies in courses at the University of Gothenburg and Umea. Nilsson describes the course aims as follows:
The participants were supposed to develop an understanding for central concepts and theories within the field of gender studies and an understanding of concepts such as democracy, tolerance and human rights. Conceptions of “femininity” and “masculinity” in different social and cultural contexts are related to power dimensions like ethnicity, class, age and sexual orientation. (Nilsson 2007: 3)
In 2005, the project was re-valuated by the Swedish Agency for School Improvement and showed that
- 90 percent of the participants say that the course has strengthened their awareness of equality and gender as a fundamental value.
- 70 percent of the participants say that the course has strengthened their competence to make connections between equality and gender and the national curriculum goals.
- 46 percent of the participants say that the course has strengthened their ability to develop more diversified methods of teaching and teaching material.
- 36 percent of the participants say that the course has made it possible for them to create contacts and networks.
- Less than 50 percent of the educated gender pedagogues have an employment that makes it possible for them to work as a resource person.
- On average the educated gender pedagogues can use 15 percent of their working time for matters that have to do with equality and gender. (Nilsson 2007: 3)
As such, the project can be evaluated as highly successful and serves as a positive example of implementation of gender-sensitivity training within teacher education. Nevertheless, this project was a unique opportunities that required enrollment to the courses in the respective Universities. In order to make such sensitivity training available to teachers and teacher trainees worldwide, other universities would have to follow this example and offer courses that raise awareness of gender inclusion within education.
Quezada-Reyes (2007) suggests the implementation of gender-fair teaching strategies that do not depend on special schooling or University courses. These strategies ought to be applied by individual educators on their own initiative throughout all learning levels and school types and include the following measures:
- Use gender-specific terms to market opportunities. For example, if a technology fair has been designed to appeal to girls, mention girls clearly and specifically. Many girls assume that gender-neutral language in nontraditional fields means boys.
- Modify content, teaching style, and assessment practices to make nontraditional subjects more relevant and interesting for female and female students.
- When establishing relevance of material, consider the different interests and life experiences that girls and boys may have.
- Choose a variety of instructional strategies such as cooperative and collaborative work in small groups, opportunities for safe risktaking, hands-on work, and opportunities to integrate knowledge and skills (e.g., science and communication).
- Design lessons to explore many perspectives and to use different sources of information; refer to male and female experts.
- Do not assume that all students are heterosexual.
- Share information and build a network of colleagues with a strong commitment to equity.
- Have colleagues familiar with common gender biases observe your teaching and discuss any potential bias they may observe. (Quezada-Reyes 2007: 92-93).
As presented in the paper, several documents exist that are legally binding for educators and intend to ensure that belonging to a certain student gender does not make a difference in pursuing learning opportunities. Of course, no one is able to tell whether or not these principles are actually being applied in each and every classroom. Luckily, there are some organizations that provide help and resources for teachers who are interested in making their classrooms more gender-inclusive. However, a lot of work still needs to be done in teacher training, as most teachers are not aware that student genders are treated differently within the classroom discourse. Therefore, we need to take measures into our own hands and try to raise awareness among our colleagues in order to avoid reproducing gender-biased content. Resources like the Index for Inclusion or the Guidelines for Gender Fair Curricula are documents everyone has access to and that are great tools for identifying problematic areas in terms of gender inequality.
5. Reflexion Questions
1- To which extend do you think the school we visited was inclusive?
Lernwekstadt Brigittenau is inclusive, as it welcomes students with (learning) disabilities, who share a classroom with the other learners, while at the same time being able to work on their own content in their own pace with trained inclusion teachers.
2- What did you like about the school, and what not, why?
I especially liked the way the learning is structured in the school. It is mainly left to the students themselves what they want to learn and when. They can take their time with content they are really interested in and they can work on these subjects in great depth and detail. When they are interested in a certain topic area, the teachers can help them pursue their interest even further (e.g. the boy who took apart a whole Laptop and built it back together). The students with learning disabilities do not have their own classroom, but are included with the other students in one room. Students learn how to work together and help each other with their learning goals. As the students need to achieve certain learning goals within the year, they are taught how to work and study independently and they learn that they alone are responsible for their learning success.
3- As a teacher, what elements will you take from this course (or not) with you, why?
I would love to be able to give my students the freedom of working on content that they have chosen to work on. Moreover, I would like to teach them that they themselves are responsible for their learning goals and that they need to structure their work. Also, I think it is important to let the students feel that they can only learn from books or from what I tell them, but also from each other.
4- What do you think about inclusive education and what does it mean to you as a future teacher?
I am really fond of the idea of inclusive classrooms that welcomes all learners, irrespective of their backgrounds or disabilities. I think we need to appreciate the diversity of students and embrace the differences as a further opportunity to learn from each other, rather than focusing on the difficulties that might come with a heterogeneous classroom. Regarding students with disabilities, I worry that with the current national curricula and the importance of stardardized testing, inclusive teaching will be rather difficult, especially in upper secondary education. Nevertheless, there are so many other things that we as teachers can do to make our classrooms more inclusive (whether we are talking about gender, religion, ethnicity or cognitive functions) and I think we need to spread this idea of ‘learning without limits’ in schools and among colleagues, as I have the impression that a lot of teachers still have a very narrow conception of what inclusive education entails and consider it another ‘burden’ they have to deal with in their teaching.
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The late 1960s brought on the first real indication that feminist groups were concerned with the education system in North America. The focus of these feminist groups captured the attention of teachers, parents, and students. At first the evidence for inequality in schooling was based on no more than specific case studies and anecdotal references to support their claims but as more people began to show concern for the situation, more conclusive research was done to show that the claims of inequality were in fact valid and definitely indicated a problem with the way that schools were educating the future adults of society. One of the problems which became apparent was the fact that the policy-makers set a curriculum which, as shown specifically through textbooks, was sexist and for the most part still is.
Textbooks are one of the most important tools used in educating students whether they are elementary school storybooks or university medical textbooks. It is therefore no surprise that these books are some of the most crucial information sources that a student has throughout their schooling. Many studies have been done examining the contents of these books to reveal the amount of sexism displayed in these educational tools. The results clearly show that gender inequality definitely runs rampant in textbooks some of the sexism subtle and some overt. To begin with, it is apparent that historical texts show a distorted view of women by portraying them unfairly and inaccurately and neglecting to mention important female figures, instead opting to describe their sometimes less influential male counterparts. Elementary and secondary school textbooks are also guilty of gender bias.
In elementary and secondary school textbooks, sexism takes many forms. Boys predominate in stories for children; they outnumber girls 5 to 2. When girls are present in texts, they are almost always younger than the boys they are interacting with, which thus makes them foils for the boys’ greater experience and knowledge– a situation commonly referred to as the ‘ninny sister syndrome.’ Girls are shown to be far more passive than are boys and to engage in fewer activities. In fact, sometimes grown women are portrayed who rely on small boys (often their young sons) to help them out of difficulty. (Fishel and Pottker 1977. p. 8)
Surprisingly it is not only these hidden forms of sexism that appear in textbooks.
One study found sixty-five stories that openly belittled girls (two were found that belittled boys). Another study pointed out an instance where Mark, of the Harper & Row ‘Mark and Janet’ series, states: ‘Just look at her. She is just like a girl. She gives up.’ Male characters said, in another story, ‘We much prefer to work with men.’ This type of material on the treatment of girls would seem to have little social or educational value, and its widespread use is difficult to understand. (ibid, p.8)
In the long run, the ideas put in students heads through textbooks, perhaps through the lack of female role models, can affect the choices they make in the future with regards to employment.
Actual teaching situations are also prone to sexism. For the most part teachers do not try to be sexist but, for sociological reasons, can not help it. For the sake of this paper, it will be assumed that these situations occur mostly in co-educational schools, but single sex schools are in no way immune to the same problems. A perfect example of society’s male-dominance interfering in education unintentionally is when teachers assign projects to their students. The teachers may hand out lists of acceptable topics ranging, in a history class for example, from fashion to transportation. The teachers then give the students a choice as to which topic they would like to do the project on. The underlying problem with this is that girls tend to choose what could be considered more “feminine” topics while the boys will choose the more “masculine” ones. “Offered to the pupils as free choice, such selections are self-perpetuating, leading to the expected choices and amplifying any differences there may have been in attitudes.” (Marland 1983, p. 152) The reason for this could be that society, through the media and other modes of communication, has pre-conceived notions as to what issues are “male”, “female”, or unisex.
Another example of how females are prone to gender inequality in the classroom is during class discussion and also what the teacher decides to talk about in the class. Classroom behaviour is a major focal point for those who identify examples of inequality. There are many differences in the way that females and males present themselves at school. It is apparent that in classroom situations males talk more, interrupt more, they define the topic, and women tend to support them. It is generally believed in our society that this is the proper way to act in classroom situations, that males have it “right” and females don’t, they are just “pushovers” and don’t have enough confidence. This, however is a big assumption to make. Some research has been done in this field that could, however, begin to refute this stereotype. It is frequently assumed that males use language which is forceful confident and masterful (all values which are regarded as positive). Females on the other hand, it is assumed, use language that is more hesitant, qualified, and tentative. One can look at the example of the use of tag questions, which are statements with questions tagged onto the end such as “I’m going to the store, all right?” It is obvious that if the above assumptions about the use of language were true, this hesitant, asking for approval type of question would be more frequently used by women. “. . . studies were carried out to determine whether women used more tag questions than men. It was found that they did not. Betty Lou Dubois and Isabel Crouch (1975) found that men used more tag questions than women.” (ibid p. 100)
The end of high school brings about more obstacles for women on the way to achieving equality in the workplace. One of the most important steps in achieving a high paying, high status job is post-secondary education. It is apparent that even today women are being encouraged to follow certain educational paths. This is shown very simply by the fact that even here at Queen’s University, men vastly outnumber women as both students and faculty members in such programs as Applied Science, while women greatly outnumber men in the programs of nursing and concurrent education. Women have historically been encouraged to enter into what could be considered “caring professions” such as nursing, teaching, and social work. This is shown very crudely in the book Careers for Women in Canada which was published in 1946 and written by a woman. The book devotes almost 200 pages to pursuing careers in such fields as catering, sewing, being a secretary, interior decorating, the arts, teaching, and nursing while it only allocates 30 pages to medicine, law, dentistry, engineering, optometry, and more combined. The following quote clearly illustrates the beliefs of the more liberal people of that time. “Some women have specialized in surgery. There can be no doubt but that a capable woman may operate very successfully on women and children, though it is doubtful whether a man would call in the services of a female surgeon except in an emergency. (Carriere 1946, p. 234) Although much has improved since the 1940s, the enrollment numbers in university programs clearly indicate that women still have a long way to go before gender is not an issue.
After choosing a career path, women enter the workplace with a disadvantage. They have the same financial responsibilities as men with regards to supporting families and themselves and much of the time they have an even heavier burden because there are many women in today’s society who are single mothers. Given that there is no question that the need for money is identical it can, therefore, be concluded that there is a major problem with the wage structure in today’s jobs. The wage gap clearly shows that society as a whole puts more value on the work of males than on the same work done by females. The facts that have been displayed above showing that education is itself a sexist institution perhaps explain why there is this inequality once schooling is finished. The fact that textbooks show males as being more successful than females, that teachers set assignments which reinforce gender stereotypes and sex roles, the fact that “masculine” behaviour is reinforced while “feminine” behaviour is condemned, and the fact that women are encouraged to choose certain career paths all validate the claim that the gender inequality in employment situations can be directly related to the way that children are educated.