Many teachers exhibit gender bias in the classroom by propagating notions that are out of step with the modern world. In this month’s Ilm o Amal, TRC staff looks at how teaching practices reinforce gender stereotypes and how teachers can become more self aware and promote gender equality in the classroom.

Students start noticing the differences when it comes to social expectations for gender roles as young children. Many research studies have shown that generally speaking girls receive less attention than boys in the classroom. There are several reasons for this. For one, boys are more likely to call out answers in the classroom even if they haven’t been asked by the teacher to respond to a question. Also boys are perceived as being more mischievous in the classroom, causing teachers to engage more with them in an attempt to monitor them. This can often cause girls to feel discouraged when it comes to speaking up in the classroom.

Another way that teachers contribute to gender inequality in the classroom lies in how they praise and criticize boys and girls. Boys are often praised more for sharing correct answers. On the other hand, many researchers have observed that even if they give wrong answers in the classroom, teachers often overlook it. In contrast, girls are often criticized for sharing incorrect information in the classroom while teachers tend to praise girls less for sharing correct knowledge. Similarly it is seen that girls are praised more for good behaviour and boys are criticized more for bad behaviour. These responses are usually a result of social conditioning and can encourage girls to be more compliant. In effect it sends the message to students that compliance is more important to academics than learning.

So how can we promote gender equality in our classrooms?

1. Reflect on your teaching practice

You can prevent gender bias in your classroom by becoming more self aware and doing your best to be as gender neutral as possible. Sometimes it can be difficult to judge your own teaching, so a teacher might consider filming his or herself to observe themselves in action in the classroom to note if they display any signs of gender bias.

2. Get Feedback

Request your colleagues and students to give you feedback on how you treat the genders in the classroom. For instance, consider asking your colleagues to observe you in the classroom. You can also request students to contribute anonymous written feedback on any gender bias they notice in the classroom.

3. Break Gender Stereotypes where you can

Train yourself to become more aware of how language contributes to gender stereotypes and wherever possible, alter it. For instance, you can challenge students’ gender expectations by including a female soldier or a male nurse in the work that you assign. Try to use gender neutral terms when speaking to your students in the classroom. Another way to break stereotypes is to Invite an equal number of men and women professionals to the classroom to address the students on careers. Also, avoid making statements that propagate stereotypes such as ‘behave like a lady’ or ‘boys don’t cry.’

4. Stress the Importance of Staying Neutral

Draw students’ and colleagues attention to the social implications of gender bias. For instance if you hear a statement such as ‘You play like a girl’, do not scold the child or the colleague. Instead draw his or her attention to the implications of using these statements. Help your colleagues and students understand how such statements have lead a certain gender to become marginalized or how it can sometimes lead to increasing the pressure on a particular gender.

5. Seat Students Intentionally

If left to choose their own seating, boys and girls tend to sit with friends and often segregate according to gender lines  in the classroom. Sometimes teachers also ask boys and girls to form separate lines or separate their sport activities. By becoming aware of these tendencies and creating a seating chart, a teacher can break up gender-based cliques and encourage them to interact with each other.

Teaching students and others to be open-minded and accepting of people from every background is an important aspect of living in the modern world. As teachers you are in a powerful position because you have access to the next generation and can help mobilize them on how to respond to gender bias every day. Being aware of gender bias yourself and helping make children more aware of it can consciously help children cope and deal with intolerance in the real world.

January 2020