A cultural challenge
It is worth mentioning that while all stakeholders agreed on the topic’s importance, some teachers explicitly highlighted the need for educational material on this topic in their context.
The topic of gender equality easily drives us to stereotypes and poses challenges, so this material gives us food for thought on the matter.
For example, after piloting a couple of activities within the primary sector, one teacher reported having been surprised by her students’ bias.
Teachers were made aware and were surprised by their students’ viewpoints and reliance on possible stereotypes.
While doing one of the activities a teacher found out that out of the 25 students in her classroom, all had male general practitioners.
Some students said their parents made this choice consciously because they didn’t trust female doctors.
She suggested that educational approaches might also need to reach the parents, to support change in the mindsets of the students.
Urgency of materials on this theme
The choice for having a bigger emphasis on public transportation, stemmed from the idea that transport networks are designed mostly by men, who then take into consideration the way that men move in the urban space. Transport planners may design according to the typical mobility patterns of men rather than of women. In order for this to be challenged, it is useful to bring this to the attention of women and girls in schools.
Some stakeholders highlighted how well the theme of gender bias matched her country’s values-based curriculum, (for example with the topic serving major core elements such as cultural, social, and self-management competences), making the topic, and therefore the material relevant for the entire education system in the country.
Whereas others, from other parts of Europe, stated that the curriculum does not currently support gender equality, in either segment of the national curriculum. So, the situational elements are important to consider in their diversity.
This state of affairs provides no opportunities for students to reflect and to think critically about this topic.
The education stakeholders also pointed out several obstacles that might stand in the way of implementation.
- The reluctance among teachers to tackle controversial issues in the classroom. This may be an especially important matter in times of great polarisation of public opinion and general disagreements on policies regarding identity and societal/cultural aspects of public life.
- Some teachers wouldn’t go near the topic, even if they do not consider themselves as experts on the topic. On the other hand, balancing this observation, several stakeholders pointed to the flexibility of foreign language and form teacher lessons.
- Teachers whose pedagogical views or whose school ethos matched the programme’s focus would be likely to engage with the material, while others may experience difficulties.
- Teachers from other subjects than easy host subjects (civics, language, history, social studies etc.) might assess that they do not have the time to implement these activities through content.
To address these issues and this astute feedback, the team chose to include teacher preparedness materials into the toolkits, rather than developing a separate toolkit for teachers only (Listen to author’s words by clicking here).
Suggestions for future expansion of the project
The stakeholders have also shared ideas for a potential future expansion of the project.
It has been suggested that:
- Board games and online storytelling to be designed around the primary toolkit.
- For the secondary level, augmented reality technology would help students “experience” what it’s like to, for example, sit in a cockpit.
- We encourage cooperation between public transportation companies and schools.
- A live website would help with these future steps.
In sum, all stakeholders expressed their wish to receive the final toolkit, with some practitioners stating that they are eager to start working with the materials, voicing high expectations and self-confidence to start, while involving colleagues in the piloting process. All in all, the interviewed stakeholders were highly engaged with the topic and today we wish to communicate reciprocity and help educators to stay informed about the toolkits and potentially become involved in further developments.
The educational toolkits project contributes to a narrow but growing knowledge base on gender-sensitive teaching materials and training for teachers to address gender stereotypes in class from an early age.
The toolkits developed in this study strive to help children and young people to understand that occupations are not reserved for one particular gender. (European Commission, 2021, p.49)
Tackling gender stereotypes in education and employment is a key policy priority for the European Commission.
However, less is known about how to do this in practice.
The toolkits developed in the context of this study aim to contribute to closing that knowledge gap by providing primary and secondary school teachers with ready-to-use materials to discuss gender stereotypes and expectations in class.
The toolkits were developed in line with the understanding that teachers are agents of change.
Teachers play a key role in addressing gender stereotypes among children, and in challenging them to think freely about education and employment.
The toolkits aim to empower teachers to foster these conversations and help children and young people to make education and employment choices unconstrained by gender stereotypes (European Commission, 2021).
As acknowledged in the final study report on the development of the toolkits (European Commission, 2021, p.15), we thank all the educational and transport stakeholders whose expert input and feedback directly informed the project development.
European Commission, Directorate-General for Mobility and Transport, Wright, T., Francisco Carcelén, C., Janečková, H., et al., Educational toolkits to help fight gender stereotypes based on the example of the transport sector: final study report on the development of the toolkits, 2021, https://data.europa.eu/doi/10.2832/11827