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Gathu, K

 

 

THE SEARCH FOR GENDER SENSITIVE CURRICULUM AND SCHOOL PRACTICES: FUTURE DIRECTIONS 

 K. GATHU

UNIVERSITY OF SWAZILAND, FACULTY OF EDUCATION

Investment in human capital is a key element in achieving long-term sustainable economic growth. Macro-economic studies show that education is positively correlated with overall economic growth. For example, one year of additional schooling of the labour force can contribute to as much as 9% increase in GDP for the first three years of schooling and to 4% a year for the next three years. Development of human capital is one of the surest ways to reduce poverty. Education improves the quality of life. It promotes health, expands access to paid employment, increases productivity in market and non-market work and facilitates social and political participation. These benefits are especially more to women. Thus the widely accepted dictum, "If you educate a man, you educate one person, but if you educate a woman you educate the entire nation". It is not surprising then that countries where school enrolment among girls and women has been comparatively high enjoy greater economic productivity, lower fertility, lower infant and maternal mortality and longer life expectancy than countries where female enrolments have not been high.

Education has been used to forge national and social unity, reduce social inequalities and imbalances. Education in any country in Africa consumes the largest share of the national budget. It is paid for by the entire tax paying community of men and women and both should benefit from it.

A lot has been achieved towards the advancement of women education among the developing countries. Female enrolment in primary schools has more than doubled while at the secondary school level, the increases have been dramatic.

Despite these gains, women are still under-represented at all levels of education relative to men. Fewer females enter educational programmes either formal or non-formal. Fewer women receive technical and vocational training and women account for a very small proportion of the enrolment in post secondary school education.

There is a very significant gender differentiation in education with regard to access; wastage, educational achievement, attainment and accomplishment among developing countries. For example, according to UNESCO/UNICEF report 1993, about 36 million girls were out of school in the Sub-Saharan Africa Region. By 1990, girls made 45% of secondary school students and 31% of the tertiary level students in the Sub-Saharan Africa. While average level of education in developing countries has increased, completion rates still remain low. About 3% of the children in developing countries who enrol in primary schools do not complete. This is caused by high repetition and drop-out rates and this has an implication on the quality of instruction.

Therefore, despite the tremendous gains made by African governments in increasing access to education, greater challenges lies ahead if the goal of Education for All is to be achieved. The most daunting challenge is that of promoting female education.

While overall improvements in education are always desirable, special attention is needed to level the playing field for girls. Experiences show that if reforms are implemented without explicit identification of girls as targets, gender disparities may not be reduced and may even widen. Efforts to improve the status of girls and women call for changing deeply engrained attitudes and practices and other additional measures. It requires serious efforts and initiatives in providing an opportunity for creating an enabling environment where girls and other disadvantaged groups can participate fully.

Article 10 on Education in the U.N Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women states the importance of eliminating...any stereotyped concept of the roles of men and women. Encouraging types of education which will help to achieve this end.

Articulating gender concerns among the developing countries is perhaps one of the most complex undertaking of our times. It involves re-conceptualisation of a strongly embedded human social order characteristic of most of the communities in the developing world. In this social order, femininity and masculinity constitutes the basic tenets and serves as the regulatory framework for power relations as well as the basis for reducing human conflict.

This human social order has initiated gender conflicts and promoted lopsided power relations in most countries of the developing world.

The result of this human struggle is a struggle between the male and female gender whereby the former prevails as reflected in the social, economic and political spheres of life. As a result, what both girls and boys learn in schools is about how men have organised their societies. Schools are used as agents of socialisation.

However, we need to acknowledge the contributions of women in society and this implies raising the awareness about women contributions and achievements.

Studies on women's educational outcomes have been carried out in many countries of the world. The central problems facing female education have been identified. These problems include; access, attainment in years of schooling, academic achievement and accomplishment after school. While statistics show marked improvement in female enrolment in many countries, their enrolment still lags behind that of boys especially at the secondary school level.

Poor educational outcomes for females have also been documented especially in Science, Mathematics and Technology.

Research also indicates that while few significant programmes and projects have been implemented to reduce gender gaps in education they seem to have had limited impact. So while education should be seen as a vehicle to empower women and give them confidence, it is apparent that girls' experiences in schools reinforces ideas about the assumed "appropriate roles" whether in relation to the family, employment or men. It can therefore be argued that the under-representation of girls in education is not so much a product of their under achievement but a product of their marginalisation. It appears like the environment where instruction takes place is gendered.

It also appears like there are critical factors that affect girls' education which have not been addressed either through research, policies or otherwise.

These factors relate to institutional policies and practices while others are associated with the society's customs, beliefs and attitudes about women's roles, responsibilities and capabilities.

In this paper, I wish to discuss the institutional policies and practices and explain how they contribute to the marginalisation of girls and women in education.

Generally, schools have been implicated in promoting the non-participation of girls in education. Research indicates that school related factors affect both the supply and the demand for female education.

Among these factors include the quality of instruction, lack of role models, teacher's attitudes, types of instructional materials used and the nature of the curriculum offered in schools as well as the timetable arrangement for the subjects offered in schools.

Considerable research literature on women education exists among the industrialised countries but little research exists among the developing countries. Most of these studies from the industrialised countries can provide a useful basis for asking questions about the educational patterns in the world. However to be able to explain the scenario in the third world, we need to conduct research in those specific countries of the third world. Current research on women's education has been restricted to a few african countries and more research is needed from other African countries.

To be able to understand the problems facing women education in Africa, it is important to provide a historical perspective of female Education in Africa since their limited participation has historical precedents. Non-indigenous education was introduced in Africa through Islam and christianity. Initially, it was not considered important but when it was later considered part of the educational development programme for indigenous communities, it was used as a vehicle for promoting domesticity. A small number of African Women were trained to be "good" house wives and mothers primarily for the emerging male clerks and church officials. Eventually the notion of the African woman as a dependent house keeper and economic ally dependent on the husband took root. The Curriculum offered in schools transmitted values of humility, low ambition and under-estimation of girls' ability in cognitive achievement, social attainment and capacity to work in public sphere. This type of education was then institution alised in the curriculum.

Up to -to day, the curriculum offered in schools has changed minimally in favour of women. As we know, a curriculum defines the subjects to be taught and furnishes the general guidance regarding the frequency and duration of instruction. Curricula vary greatly from country to country in terms of what subjects are offered and which subjects are more emphasised. The curriculum is a social artifact. An outcome of social life as well as a pedagogical device. It is a means of directing learning. What is taught in schools reflects conscious and unconscious decision by a variety of people acting in particular social and economic contexts.

It is however important to realise that the organisation of the curriculum is more than the arrangement and interrelationship of the areas of knowledge and experiences. It also includes those aspects of learning in schools that are unofficial and unintentional. These aspects are described as "hidden curriculum".

The hidden curriculum has underclared consequences in the way teaching and learning are organised and performed. The hidden curriculum describes those forces which shape the non-academic and unmeasured learning outcomes.

The hidden curriculum has a set of practices whose ultimate effects while still unknown are suspect. The practices might eventually affect the participation and achievement of the victims. Such practices include gender ability grouping, teacher-pupil relationship and implicit text book content which reinforces the informal curriculum as well as the choice of subjects offered in different schools and how they are timetabled. For example, it has been found that boys out number girls in Mathematics, Science and Technological courses while the reverse is true of the so called "home making courses" like home-science and secretarial courses. Although we tend to blame the broader society for the marginalisation of girls and women in education, schools play a crucial role in helping to reinforce the marginalisation of girls and women in education.

The author would therefore like to argue that the school practices and the curriculum offered in schools have failed to address the gender concerns and help eliminate gender biases in education.

This paper will explain how the formal curriculum and the way it is organised disadvantages the women.

We cannot attain gender equality in education unless teachers and school administrators are sensitive to the differential treatment offered between boys and girls and which are reinforced by past gendered experiences.

The paper begins by looking at the text books that are used in schools. Almost all studies on text books in low and middle income countries show that text books have a positive impact on students achievement. Books are image-forming and sources of information on social norms. They shape attitudes and also shape teaching content. In most African countries, the recommended text books that are used in schools are written by officers employed by the Ministry or through commissioned writers. If books are published in the private sector, the texts approved for schools are usually recommended by authoritative ministerial committees. In most of the developing countries books are scarce and the text book is often the first book to be handled by the child. It is highly prized and has a lot of influence on the reader. Text books are sometimes the sole property of the teacher who transmits and interprets the content to the learner.

As a result, the content of a text book is indirectly transmitted to them thereby influencing them in some way. Though no research has been done to assess the impact of text books on learners; it is a known fact that it influences them greatly. Research shows that when children are asked to name the books that they have read they name text books among the books.

Text books are prominent source of information. They have relative durability as a pedagogical resource. They last for several years. Some are used for over 10 years before they are changed. Text books are therefore among many of the socialising factors in the lives of children especially in Africa.

First and foremost the text books present models of people. They present behaviour and thought patterns which they imply are good to copy. The school as a social institution is authoritative and the text books used there carry authoritative messages on role models. The school and the text book preach social conformity in behaviour and ideology. We also know that the school attending children are a captive audience who are exposed to a common national curriculum. Therefore, they are exposed to a common culture, ideology and a common set of values or norms. We can then conclude by saying that text books are very crucial in our educational systems. They have a wide range of benefits. For example;

they are a source of information.

they are image forming.

they shape attitudes.

they shape learning.

they shape teaching.

they are agents of socialisation.

they are a basic tool for access to approved and longtime knowledge.

From the above, we can then end by saying that the textbooks that we use in schools must present both male and female gender fairly. This is because the image that both boys and girls receive in school shape their self-perceptions and views of themselves. It also shapes what they grow out to be in society.

Several studies conducted in this field indicate a gender bias in image portrayal of women in textbooks. According to one study carried out in Kenya, (Obura 1990), it was found that women are nearly invisible in textbooks, even in agriculture where they are very productive and contribute much of the labour.

In another study by Jacklin et al (1972) based on stories sampled from the first three grades of the readers by four major publishers, it was found out that boys displayed aggression, physical exertion and problem-solving behaviour while girls were engaged in fantasy, following orders or making statements (positive or negative) about themselves.

Kalia (1980) also analysed the images of men and women in Indian text books. The study revealed that males were the exclusive leading factors in 75% of the lessons with women taking precedence in only 7% of the lessons. Females were most often described for their beauty, obedience and self-sacrifice. Men for bravery, intelligence and achievement. A total of 463 occupations in the text books were counted and of these, 84% were filled by males and 16% by females. Therefore, instead of fostering the basic equality between men and women, the messages given to school children in text books sanction the dominance of males. Instead of freeing individuals from conformity to sex roles, the textbooks fortify a sex-division of labour. We all know that it is unscientific to divide tasks and subjects on the basis of sex and regard them as masculine or feminine. In misrepresenting the real world, these texts promote the perceived wisdom that women are not competent, active citizens and deprive school girls off positive role models. This perpetuates a stereo typing, and erroneos view that women contribution to the economy is marginal. Though the texts that we use may or may not succeed in teaching the formal curriculum, they are successful reinforcers of the informal curriculum. It is interesting to note that even text books for supposedly objective subjects such as mathematics are also blatant out in their gender stereotyping. For example, a study of sixth grade texts from 1963 - 1974 (Seeman 1974) found that females were significantly under-represented and engaged in different array of behaviour than males. The behaviour characteristic of the females included sewing, house keeping, food preparation, food buying and enjoying music.

To eliminate gender stereotyping in textbooks, we need to address the issue of image portrayal. Removing traditional gender sterotypes from textbooks and other instructional materials and providing strong role models in their place might motivate girls to higher educational achievement. This would imply making the curriculum more relevant to the girls.

Another area of concern is how schools organise the instructional set ups and the policies applied by different schools on the choice of subjects. Research on the impact of school level factors on female education provides some interesting insights into the way schools perpetuate the gender gap in education. The school environment, teacher attitudes and the pedagogy all affect female performance and attainment in schools.

Consensus from literature is that girls in single-sex schools tend to perform better in national examinations than those in co-educational schools particularly in science, maths and technology. The educational attainment of girls is associated with the type of educational institution one attends. For example, research carried out in Malawi on institutional factors affecting girls education at secondary school level indicates that in co-educational schools, girls were a minority averaging 30% of the students body. The learning environment was also described as being hostile to the girls with harassment, teasing and ridicule from boys if one is intelligent and when one is not too intelligent. Another study carried out in Nairobi, Kenya indicated that girls in single-sex schools had more positive experiences with science and were better able to study and follow science careers. In the co-educational schools, the girls were passive in science and mathematics classes. During the practical and laboratory sessions, girls took records while boys carried out the experiments. Studies also indicate a strong gender bias in subject choices available for girls and that girls are often streamed out of science and mathematics fields into the traditional female subjects.

Jimenez and Lockheed (1988) found that even after controlling factors such as socio-economic family background and school resources, girls in Thailand achieved more in girls schools than in co-educational schools whereas boys did better in co-educational schools. Local conditions, school rules and methods of pedagogy all influence performance and achievement in schools. A study carried out in Australia on gender differences in Australia schools found out that schools which seek to achieve competitive academic success in senior school mathematics by filtering students through selective grouping practice and restrictive promotional policies had higher rates of attrition for female students in mathematics.

The study also found out that schools that had more open promotion policies and less traditional organisation and teaching practices in the junior years can protect girls from relegation to devalued streams in mathematics. Therefore, differences in school policy related to curriculum, teaching and organisation may help explain the school differences in gender selection in mathematics. For example, in schools which expose children to a more academic structure in programme and organisation at an early stage, then gender differences become articulated more strongly.

Teachers also have differential expectations for students responses in activities like teacher-led whole class discussion where boys are spoken to more frequently and are asked more higher order questions. (Becker,, J.R).

Recent research on discussion about concepts in science text shows that whole-class discussion is dominated by males.

It has been argued that discussions that disenfranchises females is especially detrimental in science since according to researchers it is important to discuss ideas when student's theories are contradicted by scientific thought (Alvermann and Hynd). Students also report discussions to be an activity that contributes most to science learning. (Tobin and Garnett 1987). But research also indicates that both true discussions and recitation type discussion (where a teacher asks questions and students respond) are dominated by males.

Lemke, J. (1990) found that science teachers took a student's argument on a position more seriously when they were assumed to have come from a male. Research into instructional practices conducted in Malawi reveals that teachers favour boys during lessons and that girls are sometimes ridiculed for failing to answer what a teacher believes to be a simple question and that boys generally serve as leaders in practical science lessons.

Many studies indicate that schools fail to provide evironments conducive to girls learning. For example , teacher-student interactions are biased in favour of boys as early as elementary school. In the face of failure, boys are encouraged to try again and girls allowed to give up. (Oakes 1990). Pedagogy is often based on male learning styles especially when competition is emphased. Under all forms of instruction, girls have less access to science equipment, hands-on activities and computers than boys (Kahle & Lakes 1993, Sutton 1991).

Girls expect to fail in tasks that are unfamiliar, difficult or perceived to require high ability (Oakes 1990). When they fail, girls internalise their failure, attributing it to themselves. The poor self-concept leads to taking fewer maths and science courses.

Lockheed and Komenan (1985) shows that teaching practices rather than teacher quality were predictive of higher attainment in schools. Barr and Dreeben (1983) make a similar observation in the United States. They argue that the organisation of the classroom time and the used of classroom materials can raise achievement level independently of the ability of students.

Further explanation is provided by Lafrance (1991) who cites three reasons for male domination of talk in classrooms. First he argues that there is cultural proclivity for seeing any talk by women as too much talk. Second, social pressure requires that females should be good listeners and their verbal participation is seen as less important than their ability to be attentive to others. Three, women are discouraged from talking by such verbal and non-verbal means as gaze aversion, delayed feedback, interruptions and withholding of active listening responses like nods. Sadker and Sadker (1985) observed students in more than 100 classrooms and found that at all grade levels and in all subjects, boys dominated classroom communication. Tannen also

reports that males dominate whole class discussion whatever the topic. She even recommends small group discussions in order to involve the girls.

From the above, it is evident that girls under-achievement is not so much a product of their incompetence but a product of their marginalisation. To improve girls participation we need to be aware of these problems as teachers so that we can carry out appropriate interventions.

Available evidence indicates that teachers are generally unaware of gender differences in talk and classroom participation. But even when teachers are aware, they may consider such differences to be expected norm or be unaware of how to cope with it.

It is therefore apparent that any interventions should also include measures to raise teachers' awareness of the problem and the variable ways they can use to solve the problem. Teachers therefore need some gender sensitivity training. It is important to note that teaching - learning is not always teacher driven. This calls for the need to develop a gender inclusive curriculum which will include issues such as self-reflections, critique of current textbooks that are used in schools and gender roles.

There is need to expand girl friendly practices in the classroom and sensitize teachers to girl friendly learning environments. This also calls for the need to re-structure the teacher training curriculum for the pre-service and in-service teacher training programmes to include the gender issues.

There is need to change the traditional school curriculum since it fails to reflect the experiences and contributions of women in history as well as in the contemporary society. Girls face conflicting ideas about what is appropriate in relation to their domestic future on one hand, and their future in paid employment on the other. So the major question is "should we change our curriculum to reflect the lives and experiences of girls and women or not?

If we agree to this, then we need to address the issue of text books. Textbooks are powerful determinants of the curriculum. They influence the way students interact with the content. They define and exemplify the curriculum. We also need to acknowledge the fact that gender discrimination is a fact of life in schools. The teacher's ability to label a student in a certain way has far reaching effects on the behaviour and achievement of the student.

A research carried out in the USA anlaysed the views of 850 teachers and found that although the majority believed in the policy of equal opportunities, few were committed to any sort of practice to ensure equality. Some teachers even believed that a boy's education was more important than a girls' education. So if we are to address women's concern adequately, we must re-organise what we teach and how we teach it.

Solutions that deal with equality of opportunity while avoiding equality of conditions are fundamentally patriarchal in theory and practice. But gender equality is more likely to be achieved if teachers are sensitive to the differences between boys and girls. These are the differences based on their past gendered experiences. The teachers than need to provide different treatments to reflect the interest of the disadvantaged group. For example; we need to be more flexible to girls with regard to the choice of certain subject options especially in science, maths and technology which have traditionally been considered as male domains. We need to change our pedagogy and attitudes towards students.

Teachers behaviour and teaching practices have perhaps the most significant implications for female persistence, academic achievement and attainment.

Teachers' attitudes towards the students are a reflection of the broader societal biases about the role of women in society and the academic capacity of girls. Evidence from Cameroon, Sierra Leone and Malawi indicate that both male and female teachers believe that boys are academically superior to girls. Classroom observations in Kenya; Malawi and Rwanda also indicates that teachers paid more attention to boys than girls or completely ignored girls.

Research from Zambia indicates that there gender discrimination by secondary school teachers with boys receiving more attention in the distribution of text books and other learning materials. The quality of student-teacher interaction is noted as negative towards girls and tends to discourage their participation in class. Little evidence exists to suggest that female teachers are any better or worse than their male counterparts with regard to in-class relationship with students. However, for the school to provide role models to the girls, recruitment of female teachers is recommended as a strategy. This strategy is also seen as a way of putting parents at ease about their daughters safety due to the presence of female teachers. We all know that male teacher are known to prey on their female students, threatening to fail them. Male teachers also reward female students who "cooperate" with high marks. All these are indicators of the hostile learning environment that girls and young women face.

Another critical issue that needs to be addressed to level the playing field for girls is sexual violence and harassment. A study carried out in Tanzania implicates sexual harassment to the poor levels of performance of female students. A study in Guinea indicates that boys are very aggressive towards girls and that they used physical force, threatened and teased them to silence them in class. This area requires further investigation for action. Also of concern to girls education is the issue of pregnancy. As girls become adolescent, pregnancy becomes a major factor in school drop-out. Pregnant girls are consequently expelled from school and the parents who expected support from the girl once she starts working suddenly become economically responsible for their adult daughter as well as the grand child. A study carried out on Female Adolescent Health and Sexuality in Kenyan secondary schools found out that some parts of the country had a 10.7% pregnancy rate among school girls. The study also found no significant differences in rates for the occurrence of pregnancy between girls in mixed secondary schools and those in girls only schools and between different categories of schools. More often than not pregnancy marks the end of a girl's schooling. Punitive policies exist in most African countries towards school girls' pregnancies. Data from Tanzania indicates that in 1983, 7, 343 girls representing 30% of secondary school girls were expelled because of pregnancy. The study in Kenya (Youri 1993) on Adolescent Health Sexuality indicates that over 72% of the sample of girls interviewed did not have correct knowledge about the fertile days of the menstrual cycle yet by age 15 about 36% of the sexually experienced girls had acquired the experience. This clearly demonstrates the need to integrate population Education into the formal school curriculum. Available evidence also indicates that where Population Education exists, the courses are not examined. Teachers tend to spend time allocated to such courses to teach the academic courses which will be examined at the end of the course.

In conclusion we can say from the evidence above that schools tend to limit girls academic potential through exclusion, avoidance and marginalisation. In the process, schools reflect and promote society's low expectations of girls.

There is need therefore to make interventions in order to address women's concern in education. These are what are termed as future directions in this paper.

I would therefore like to make the following suggestions on how to address the women concerns in education:-

  1. There is need for research to address the inefficiency caused by high drop-out in schools as well as the reasons that make students especially girls to leave school.

  2. Teachers both male and female should be made aware of the impact of their attitudes and teaching practices on the educational outcomes by gender. Few studies have been conducted to address this issue in depth.

  3. We need to conduct research to find out which educational practices promote more effective learning among girls.

  4. We need to make the learning materials, the curriculum and examinations gender sensitive or aware. This calls for the need to develop a criteria for evaluating gender-bias in instructional materials especially textbooks for all the National Curriculum Development Centres and Examination Councils.

  5. Teachers need to be trained in gender-sensitivity methodologies. This can only be achieved if we incorporate gender-sensitivity training for teachers in the pre-service and in-service training programmes.

  6. In co-educational institutions especially secondary schools, we need to re-consider how the students are streamed. It is recommended that the students be streamed by gender in order to make the learning environment girl friendly.

  7. Population education need to be integrated into the formal curriculum.

  8. If girls are to be helped in their educational attendance, attainment and performance, we need to rank order the problems of girls' education to be given priority in a given setting and then integrate activities that target the girls into the overall programmes which aim at improving education in general.

  9. We need to increase the number of female teachers in schools to provide role models and also promote women to senior posts in the civil service to serve as role models.

  10. We need to evaluate the textbooks that we are using in order to revise them and make them appropriate and friendly to the girls.

 

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