Gender stereotypes in the classroom context

The environment in which children grow up plays a huge role in their personal development and their character development. It is vital that the classroom environment allows the child to explore his/her identity in a space that is safe.

It goes without saying that how we teachers manage the issue of gender around our students has a great impact on how well they will do in the classroom. This is also why children grow up believing themselves as being incapable of doing and/or achieving certain things/subjects because they are for a specific gender: for example, Mathematics is for boys and Social Studies is for girls.

This is a subject that has also become intertwined with the family as an institution. Parents often treat their boy children differently to their girl children: somcertain e parents insist that household chores at home are for girls, and others for boys.

Some teachers group our students in categories and do not allow for gender diversity. Who says that only girls can play in the doll house? Or that only boys can play with scooters? What is so important about having a line for boys and a line for girls? Are we not forcing gender stereotypes and depriving our children from discovering who they really are?

There are many ways one can achieve classroom management without enforcing any gender stereotypes on our children.

  • When having the dress-up corner in a classroom, one can have a mixture of items and props.
  • When grouping learners, one can use animal names/colours.
  • Rather than having a boys’ line and a girls’ line, one can have one line where learners line up from 1-10 or 10-1.
  • When addressing learners, one can address them by name rather than ‘my girl’ or ‘my boy’.
  • When planning classroom activities/games avoid games/activities which categorise learners to boys vs girls. For example, a completion between girls and boys. Rather have them compete against each other as equals.
  • When having groups, one can have mixed gender groups.

Children are born with the innocence of being able to socialise and relate to all children of different genders. It is only when they become exposed to norms that separate them that they show unease and awareness in their differences.

Lastly, it is a fact of life that gender stereotypes are a part of human life but teachers can help to challenge this by applying an approach of acceptance and inclusivity. They can also make schools a safer place for all children to grow and develop in by talking about stereotypes and affirmation of unconventional choices.