Gender Integration in the Classroom

Children deserve to grow and learn in an accepting environment that embraces and empowers them. We firmly believe that every child has endless potential to achieve astounding things.

However, both boys and girls may have their light dimmed by the gender biases and stereotypes which greatly affect how they view themselves. Teach For Kenya is therefore working to ensure that we can create an equal future for all. This is by protecting all children from facing any gender biases and ensuring that they all find their true identity and believe in themselves.

Our Fellow , Cynthia Koome , a gender practitioner shared powerful insights to inspire leaders and educators to choose to challenge the gender stereotypes in the education space and how to integrate gender in the classroom.

‘‘Beginning my journey towards bridging education inequity as a Teach for Kenya Fellow, Gender integration in my classroom and in the school has been my main goal. Being passionate about Gender and Development, Gender disparity being one of the facets, I was intrinsically motivated.

Everyday at Mukuru kwa Njenga Slum, I intentionally wear gender lens. As I interact with the community, I continue to learn a lot about my learners, their environment and the local social and gender dynamics in the area.

Integrating gender in my classroom and school had proven to be a bit challenging than I initially thought. However, after much thought, I chose to reach out to gender practitioners in the education field including my university lecturers on pointers and actions on how to effectively mainstream gender in a mixed school environment. Within a short period, I observed my learners growing holistically and I cannot wait to see their overall growth at the end of my 2-year fellowship program. Truly, educators have the ability to shift and transform perceptions and barriers.

Some of the approaches I have employed to challenge gender stereotypes include:

1. Being conscious of my students’ social environment

I strive to consciously pay attention to the social environment in which my students are brought up. Some come from male headed households, while others from female headed and single parent families. I have also noted that some of my learners have undergone various traumas in their upbringing, some hail from well-off families while others very poor families and all my learners have different personalities. As such, I always reflect on these factors recognizing that they are not homogeneous hence, these act as a guide on how I handle each of them singularly and collectively.

2. Use of Gender Sensitive and Gender-Neutral Language When Appropriate

I have often found myself altering the language within my lessons to help expand my learners’ perspectives beyond gender stereotypes. For example; in a certain Environmental studies activity, I challenged learners’ expectations by including a female construction worker and a male nurse. These are some of the professions typically associated with a particular gender.

I am also conscious, when referring to the group as a whole, I avoid using gendered terms like ‘guys,’ which may make female students feel excluded. Instead, I use gender-neutral pronouns like ‘everyone.’ Similarly, I refrain from referring to stereotypical characteristics like ‘boys do not cry’ or ‘girls should not shout’ as this language lays a foundation of students’ understanding of gender roles which also affects a teacher’s behavior and expectations towards the children.

3. Grouping Students Intentionally

Commonly boys and girls segregate when choosing groups and seating arrangements. Teachers might encourage this by asking girls and boys to form separate lines or groups or even organizing separate sports activities for each group, which reinforces gender segregation.

On my second week in class, after careful observation, I intentionally created a dynamic seating chart, I encourage both boys and girls’ groups to engage and interact with each other.

4. Transforming my classroom into a safe space

Give girls and boys need a safe space to voice their individual and collective experiences and concerns. The student-teacher relationship is vitally important to a learner’s critical reflection on their own understandings of gender. It is the teacher’s ability to recognize and understand local social and gender dynamics by giving voice to boys’ and girls’ experiences that teachers can create more gender-inclusive learning environments in some of the most gender-exclusive contexts. Encourage all children to share feelings and emotions equally.

5. Providing a wide range of diverse stories

This refers to the genders in non-stereotyped roles. For example; a president or a ruler being a woman or a tiger being refers to as a ‘him’ and a butterfly or bird is a ‘she’ can greatly affect the gender roles that children view in our society.

As a teacher, I been guilty of referring to a lion as a “he” and a rabbit as a “she”. Today, I have learnt to be conscious while narrating stories to my learners. I have also embraced digital learning to show the leaners diverse stories with non-stereotyped roles so as to expand their perspectives.

6. Discouraging the use of selective Gender roles

I intentionally avoid assigning classroom tasks that traditionally relate to a specific gender, for example; boys moving desks or taking out the bins while girls mopping the classroom.

7. Explaining the Context of Gender to Learners

Children come to school with preconceived ideas about gender depending on their socialization. It is up to the teacher to have such conversations with his or her learners. For example, if students use phrases like ‘man up’, ‘Mary can’t play because it’s a boy’s game.’ That is ‘teachable moment’ to unpack the comment and how it made the learner in question feel.

Some of the phrases I often come across are “kimbia kama mwanaume” (Run like a man) and “wasichana hawafai kucheza na sisi” (Girls can’t play with us). Instead of admonishing the use of that kind of phrasing, I sit them down and repeatedly point out the implications of such statement.

8. Embracing Gender-Sensitive pedagogy

Embracing gender sensitive pedagogy consists of all the pointers mentioned above. Gender Sensitive Pedagogy is time-consuming and most teachers would rather spend time completing the syllabus also some would feel like its means more work. On the contrary, gender sensitive pedagogy encourages teachers to employ diverse techniques that meet different learners needs while teaching. It does not mean more teaching but different teaching. Implementation of gender sensitive and gender — responsive pedagogy is quite challenging especially in a context where Gender inequality persist.

Educators are gendered beings, we are products of our society and we carry with us the gender norms “baggage” of our communities, thus it is difficult for one to judge their own teaching objectively. I often ask my colleagues for feedback. I advise educators to consider asking questions like: do you notice a difference in how I treat boys and girls? It may also help if one recorded a video of them offering instruction and take a closer look at their own teaching methods and interactions with students.

As a Teach for Kenya Fellow and a gender practitioner, I strive to continue learning and understand my learner’s environment and the communities social and gender dynamics. In serving the Mukuru kwa Njenga community, I believe that by interacting more with community members, listening to their opinions and perspectives about various societal issues and allowing my learners to voice their experiences will help create an equal future free from stereotypes; a future that’s sustainable, with equal rights and opportunities for all.’’

About Author

‘‘Changemaker is the word that best describes me. I am a gender and development specialist who is passionate about bridging education inequity in Kenya.’’