For almost as long as children have learnt in co-ed schools, parents, teachers and societies have been addressing the question of how to create a fair learning environment for both boys and girls. Whether you're looking at the conditions that are unfavourable to males or females, the question of creating classroom gender equality is a complex one and a problem whose solution may be long in coming. Yet there are still simple measures any teacher or administrator can take to help create a more equal environment.
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Whenever assessing a project or paper whose grading is subjective and without clear "right" or "wrong" answers, use a method of blind grading to keep teachers from knowing the gender and identity of the student until after the assignment is assessed and graded. This will drastically cut down on both gender and personal biases when giving grades to the assignments, giving every student a chance to be judged based on the quality of work. A simple way to do this is to require that assignments be turned in inside envelopes with the names written on the back, but not on the papers themselves. If the envelopes are stacked uniformly with the name sides down, teachers can avoid looking to see which names go with which papers. A more stringent method involves assigning numbers and using a teacher's aide to keep track of which numbers go with which names.
For teachers who are looking to cut down on their own subconscious tendency to enforce unfair gender roles, a simple mental exercise is often all it takes to see things in a new light and reform many behaviours. Teachers should regularly ask themselves if their normal reactions to students and situations would be changed if they were dealing with a student of the opposite sex. Supportive staff training may be required to help teachers use their imagination in this way and be open to discovering that they hold some gender biases.
Discourage Gender-Based Bullying
Sometimes, the worst gender discrimination children can face comes not from the teachers and school institutions themselves, but from one another. Children pick up the norms of many aspects of gender conformity at a young age and may pressure and bully one another. For example, they may taunt a girl who likes to arm-wrestle or a boy who cries. Teachers looking to discourage this kind of behaviour will need to work to prevent double standards in the same way they work to rid their own behaviours and perceptions of gender standards. Even if bullying is not permitted normally, gender conformity-based bullying should be addressed by drawing students' attention to the general problems of gender inequality.
Gender inequality is nearly always propped up by unwitting ignorance of the problem. But even very young children are capable of being educated about gender roles and bias in age-appropriate terms, and parents should be encouraged to be open about and aware of the issues that their children face. A gesture as simple as informing parents that you want your school to be as fair to the sexes as possible can be enough to create an atmosphere where they, and their children, feel safe in reporting grievances and asking questions that will help to improve the atmosphere for all students.
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