Gender Bias in Curriculum
As far back as 1965, the Indian Government agreed to rewrite the textbooks so that men and women would not be portrayed in gender stereotyped roles. However, later in a study of Indian textbooks done in 1980’s, it was found that men were the leading characters holding prestigious positions and occupations and were portrayed as strong, adventurous and intelligent.
In contrast, women were depicted as weak and helpless, often as victims of abuse and violence. This gender stereotype has limited women’s capacity to develop their aspirations and abilities, pursue their professional careers and to live in a society with dignity.
In India, the status of the girl child has been a subject of much discussion, controversy and debate till now. There are some cultural and economic reasons as to why female child is not allowed to receive the same educational attention as their male counterparts.
Education is the potential instrument to empower women with knowledge, opportunities, self-confidence and skill, that are imperative for a country’s social and economic development. If our country wishes to utilize the full potential of men and women equally then, why are women always being projected as a weak counterpart?
Unfortunately, the deep-rooted patriarchal convictions and traditional stereotypes pre-define their roles in society and restrict their freedom to nominal education and household.
Some researchers raised their concerns about Gender bias in schools and college system, gender-stereotyped career choices, academic achievement, and stereotyped representation of women in textbooks.
Now the question arises as to what extent gendering acts as a potential threat for the career aspiration of girls?
Gender biasing is being unconsciously perpetuated by teachers by clearly defining gender-appropriate roles for girls and boys. They promote girls to join activities like cookery, dance, drama, design and stitching etc. as a part of their co-curricular activities. They encourage boys to indulge in activities which are masculine tasks like boxing, karate, gymnastics, judo, aerobics etc. This indicates that teachers being the agent of social transformation unknowingly reinforce the gender discrimination which is already prevailing in the society.
Words such as “You guys” can be a popular way of addressing a group, yet it’s an example of how we unknowingly contribute to gender bias.
Gender is a social construct, so teachers must try to make the classroom an area where these social norms are left at the door and where the students can become anything they want to be.
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM), are considered as masculine subject areas. Humanities and languages are supposed to be associated with femininity.
This gender stereotyping of certain curriculum subjects directly sets limits to career aspirations of girls. Due to this prejudice about girls, they are not ready to take subjects like Mathematics, Science, IT when they pursue plus two courses. Because girls think that learning these difficult subjects is not suitable to them, as their roles are already pre-determined and pre-defined according to the patriarchal society. In many cases, schooling fails to afford opportunities for girls to let them compete on an equal footing with their male counterparts and influences educational career aspirations and choices.
I being a woman, and also a teacher of a science subject have felt the dread of this patriarchy in the tech-oriented courses which I am teaching or have taught in other institutions. The ratio of girls as compared to that of boys is very low even in the 21st-century.
It is a crucial issue to investigate, whether our schools are perpetuating gender bias among students through a gendered curriculum. Reports have shown that even the revised textbooks in schools of Rajasthan, Kerala and some of the important metro cities of India like Bangalore are more gender-sensitive when compared to other states in India.
The attitude and expectation of teachers about gender identity needs to change and some measures need to be taken to deconstruct the gender role stereotypes, ideas and values embedded in the school system. The curriculum must be reframed in a gender-sensitive manner so that girls and women are provided an equal opportunity to fully develop 21st-century competencies. They can take part in STEM related fields and thus contribute significantly to development as equally empowered, confident, proactive and responsible citizens.