Written by Abigail Chifusa, Global Schools Project Officer.
The primary function of language teaching is to facilitate interaction and communication. In a world which is facing significant challenges such as environmental issues, poverty, hunger, discrimination, injustice, violence, racism, and more., Global Schools (GSP) Advocate, Christelle Djoukouo, took to the stage and gave a presentation based on centering gender and inclusion during language instruction. She gave this presentation during the General Assembly of Cameroon’s Bilingual Teacher's Association (CABITA).
Throughout her presentation, Christelle revealed the importance of creating gender balance in a language classroom with the focus on promoting gender equality in French and English classes. She explained that raising awareness on gender issues does not end at reading texts and discussing with learners, but inclusion and gender balance should be seen in all daily classroom activities. She used a textbook to show how language textbooks and lessons usually lack gender balance.
She added that teaching a language in class cannot limit itself to teaching students communication skills, but it should go beyond this and incorporate life skills and attitudes, thus contributing to making the world a better place.
In her presentation, Christelle quoted Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
She explained, “Today many countries are promoting Education for Sustainable Development (ESD), whose main objective is that through teaching and learning, students should be empowered to face all the challenges they might come across, in and out of the classroom. CABITA teachers can participate in this by introducing competences in their lessons that are not directly linked to the syllabus, yet are necessary for the students.”
Additionally, Christelle emphasized that the question of “gender equality” has been a burning topic for many years and yet, boys and girls still do not have the same opportunities and treatment in classrooms; and, in her opinion, the classroom setup is the best place to promote an inclusive, unbiased, and fair learning environment. The promotion of gender equality should be seen in the classroom set up, in the classroom management, in the teaching and learning materials, as well as in the lesson plan and in the language.
Below are the two thematic reflection questions Christelle answered during her official presentation:
1. How is gender inequality manifested in the classroom/ school?
In the classroom setup: girls are sitting with girls, and boys are sitting with boys (generally at the back of the class), which can show that the two genders are different.
Classroom interaction: the girls frequently answer questions in class whereas the boys do not and the teacher allows it. When a boy answers a question correctly, he receives more encouragement than when a girl does. Also, when a girl has a problem, the teacher tends to be more compassionate than when it is a boy; this can reinforce inequality.
Interaction between students: when expressions like “boys do not do this”, “girls can not do that”, “stop crying like a girl” are not prohibited in the school setting, it can reinforce gender inequality and stereotypes.
Classroom management: for group work, if there is no instruction given, students will pair themselves without respecting gender parity. More so, classroom chores like cleaning the teacher’s office and mopping the classroom are assigned to girls whereas boys clean the chalkboard and carry benches. This can reinforce the idea that girls are weak, and boys are strong.
Classroom material: class posters can often reinforce stereotypes because most often, there are more boys than girls presented, and the girls are generally pictured doing “girls’ things” like household chores or particular professions said to be for “women.” The same goes for images and passages found in the textbooks where few girls are presented in a dominant position, gender-neutral words like “student” in a text are replaced by male pronouns, thus reinforcing the idea that men dominate women.
2. How can we promote gender equality in our classroom/ school?
To reduce gender inequality in the school setting, CABITA members can become ambassadors of gender equality through their behavior and classroom practices. Some practices recommended in the presentation are:
-Encouraging mixed seating of boys and girls in the classroom.
-Mixing boys and girls in classroom activities and giving them specific roles each time; for example, a girl is designated as the head of the group, a boy is the secretary, and vice versa.
-Choosing materials that are free from gender stereotypes and, in case one is found, a critical analysis of that material and/or textbook can be carried out with the students.
-Organizing activities that break gender stereotypes, for example, a roleplay/scene that demonstrates a boy can be the victim of domestic violence or a scene where the mother is a pilot and the father is a secretary. Other ideas for activities could be: a school-wide cooking competition, a race and a football match between boys and girls, a debate where both boys and girls discuss problems faced by girls and look for solutions.
Invite different stakeholders who are succeeding in professions typically associated with the other gender to serve as role models to students, showing what a man can do, a woman can do, and vice versa.
Sanction gender-inclined language immediately when it is heard.
Carry out class role plays that celebrate women’s as well as men’s accomplishments in the history of mankind in order to show a balance.
Give the same chores, attention, and encouragement to all the students without any discrimination.
Create a club that promotes gender equality on the campus.
Sensitize other teachers on the importance of promoting gender balance in their classrooms.
Promote a gender responsive school with the help of the school administration.
Additionally, Advocate Christelle Djoukouo encouraged her fellow teachers who participated in the presentation to become more gender sensitive in their classrooms. Christelle highlighted the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and urged teachers to include them in their lessons. Furthermore, she showed participants instances of gender stereotypes in textbooks that she uses to teach in her classroom.
In order to encourage other teachers, Christelle committed herself to sharing Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) tasks and activities to guide them throughout the academic year.
In conclusion, the school is a learning environment which transforms students to make them better people in the future. Christelle encouraged the teachers to empower their students and help them develop values and attitudes that will positively shape their personality and make them great citizens of Cameroon and the world at large.