Spain’s new education law, the LOMLOE, brings the country in line with global views and goals regarding education and sustainability. The second focus of the law is:
Ensuring gender equality, preventing gender violence, respecting diversity and ensuring an inclusive and non-sexist education.
This is directly linked to the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals of the United Nations, of which Spain is a proud member. Sustainable goals number 4 and 5 outline inclusive, quality education and gender equality. These are important goals for all nations of the world, and the best place to start these initiatives is in school. In this blog post, we’ll look at what we can do as teachers.
First, let’s look at the wording of the law, as it uses the term ‘gender’, and clarify the differences between the terms gender and sex. Sex is the biological and physiological features of a body which leads to the labelling of ‘male/female’ at birth. Gender is defined as a person’s chosen social identity as male, female, or non-binary—the last of which refers to students who identify as a gender other than “male” or “female.” Gender definitions also include transgender students, who identify as a gender that is different from their biological sex.
Gender equality and ensuring an inclusive education means helping to affirm student identities and changing how students see themselves, each other, and the wider world. These positive views about others will then flow into every day life once students have finished school, benefitting society as a whole. The teacher’s role here, and the support of the school, is crucial.
A study by Bian et al in 2017 identified that children as young as six years old start to attribute brilliance to males, rather than females, and this stereotype dissuades females from learning or experimenting with certain tasks, which ultimately stops them from pursuing specific academic careers. This stereotype is also compounded at home with parents 2.5 times more likely to Google ‘is my son a genius?’ rather than ‘is my daughter a genius?’. The reasons for this imbalance could be attributed to many things, such as teachers and parents modelling poor stereotypes; movies, books, TV show characters not being diverse, and so on. But the important thing to remember is that this behaviour starts from age 6, so it is vitally important that schools do all they can to ensure a non-sexist education.
How can we create a world free from gender-based discrimination?
Here are a few ideas for us all to think about and get started with as teachers.
- There is no such thing as character traits, for example, ‘girls are more sensitive than boys,’ or ‘boys are more dominant than girls’. Remove this idea from your and your school’s thinking. It is all about individualism, for example, we can say this particular student is dominant.
- Think about the language you use. For example, are you always saying a phrase like ‘Okay, girls and boys, listen up!’ which immediately draws attention to the difference in class, rather than inclusiveness. You can address your class with these terms: students, class, everyone, friends. Even pet names can be damaging, such as: sweetheart, champ. Avoid saying these phrases. Even in Spain, it is still quite common to cheer boys up with the phrase ‘campeon’ (meaning champion) for boys and ‘princessa’ (meaning princess) for girls. This language is pigeonholing students into behaving or conforming to a certain ideal and totally unnecessary.
- Check your teaching material, is it gender-biased? At a basic level, does it include pictures of males being CEOs, builders and pilots, and females being nurses, teachers and caregivers? If yes, change the material. If you cannot change the material, point out this ridiculous bias to children, have a discussion about it and highlight other ways of thinking. At more complex levels, does the chapter about ‘great inventors’, ‘superheroes’ or ‘entrepreneurs’ only include readings or listenings about males? Again, it’s very easy to replace these items with more diverse texts or challenge the material in class. Use this handy UNESCO checklist when planning your curriculum:
- Are the materials used by the teacher or students free from gender stereotypes?
- Do the materials show females and males an equal amount of times?
- Do the materials show females and males with equal respect, and potential (when talking about jobs, or the future, for example)?
- Does the curriculum reflect the needs and life experiences of both males and females?
- Does the curriculum promote peace and equality for males and females, regardless, of their race, class, disability, religion, sexual preference, or ethnic background?
Did you know that Pearson is the world’s first learning company to create gender equality guidelines? These guidelines, developed in close collaboration with the Fawcett Society, are used to develop all coursebooks, digital resources and qualifications. To read more about them click here and to download the full guidelines click here. As the guide states ‘The word choices, charts, graphs, illustrations and photos used in our materials all have the power to shape thinking and reinforce beliefs about gender roles…this matters because stereotypes limit children by presenting them with a specific set of acceptable behaviours.’
- All classroom materials can be used by students. It sounds simple, but in primary school, males can play with dolls as much as females can play with construction games without judgment or encouraging them ‘in another direction’. Affirm choices that students make.
- Think about how you divide up your class. Instead of girls vs. boys, you can team students up alphabetically, by same birthday month or days, by hobbies, by patterned socks vs plain socks, anything really! It encourages children to see themselves in different ways.
- Don’t be too harsh on the males. By highlighting unacceptable behaviour in class committed by males more than females will lead to males’ resentment against the females who don’t get punished for the same actions, which can lead later to toxic masculinity. This is where any wrong-doing or shame is turned into anger and even violence by males, and this pattern of behaviour will continue into adulthood.
- Count how many times males and females answer questions in class, and try to keep it balanced across all subjects. Good practice is also to wait and call on the 7th or 8th hand that rises, rather than on the first students to raise their hands all the time.
- When you see or hear a gender stereotype happening in class, stop, talk and teach about it.
- Talk openly about issues. The more we talk, the more normalised a topic gets. Answer questions honestly by children – they are so curious about the world and look up to you for answers and as a role model.
- Ask your manager or teaching colleague to come and observe one of your lessons and have gender equality as the main focus of your lesson. This will help you to think about this in the planning stages of the lesson, and encourage you to use genderless terms in your speech.
This list is by no means exhaustive. Keep on talking to your fellow teachers, school principals, parents and the children themselves to get ideas. Keep on researching different techniques online, there are loads of resources out there to help you. It will not be addressed in just one lesson about gender discrimination, but rather being aware as teachers that we make a difference every day in the classroom. As Pearson’s recent Global Learner Survey suggests, most people believe schools are making progress on providing an equal education for all, but there’s still a lot to be done.