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The Road to Equitable, Violence-free Quality Education is paved with…Gender-Sensitive Teaching

published 4 December 2015 updated 4 December 2015
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There is ample evidence to show that second only to students’ own efforts, teachers are the most important school-based factor for ensuring successful student learning. The right to education, therefore, can only be enjoyed by every child if teachers receive adequate, high standard initial training and continuous professional development throughout their career. This training must also be gender-sensitive if equitable quality teaching and learning is also to be free from violence.

It is critical for educators’ education and professional development needs to be priority issues in education policy-making and financing strategies, since it is widely accepted that ‘ the quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers’. As the voice of educators worldwide (representing some 32.5 million educators and support professionals at all levels, from early childhood to tertiary education), Education International(EI) consistently advocates, among other things, for:

  • All teachers to receive higher education level training before starting their teaching career;
  • All teachers to be mentored and to receive induction into the profession, as well as in-service training and on-going professional development;
  • Short-term solutions to address critical teacher shortages, particularly in complex emergency and conflict situations;
  • The teachers’ performance assessment to be developmental and arrangements for such assessment to be included within teachers’ collective agreements.

However, teacher education is not only important for successful student learning; what teachers do when they are in the classroom is also very important with regard to what happens in the teaching and learning environment.

Classrooms are gendered spaces; in many countries boys and girls will even be separated, underlining real and perceived differences between them, and making the learning environment more easily amenable to violent behaviours or abuse. In this type of climate, school-related gender-based violence (SRGBV) can go undetected, unreported, or even overlooked, because gender-based violence occurs as a result of entrenched gender norms and unequal power dynamics between genders.

Gender norms endure, in part, because they are reproduced as a result of socially learned behaviour, which means they can be changed. So the role of education is crucial because it is the framework for knowledge acquisition through a process of learning. According to the new Rethinking Education report (UNESCO, 2015), intentional and organised learning that occurs either formally or non-formally ‘is a multifaceted reality defined by the context. Learning is understood in this approach as ‘a process of acquiring knowledge, but also as the result of that process; as a means, as well as an end; an individual practice as well as a collective endeavour’.

From this perspective, we can view educators as vital agents of change who are optimally placed to challenge the social norms that can lead to harmful behaviours, including gender-based violence in and around educational settings. Therefore, prioritising gender-sensitive content within teacher education is central to improving gender equality within education, and ensuring all girls have access to, and can successfully participate in quality education that is also free from violence.

The 2014 Gender Summary of UNESCO’s Education for All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report strongly recommends that if States are serious about guaranteeing quality education for all, governments must ensure that teachers receive the best possible initial training, and continuous professional development throughout their career. Such training, it is argued, should prepare teachers to support the learning of a diverse student population with a wide range of differing needs. In-service training is particularly important for those teachers who are already in post, but may be untrained or undertrained – especially in disadvantaged communities.

The Gender Summary calls for teachers’ educational programmes to focus on increasing teachers’ awareness of their own attitudes towards, and perceptions of gender in their teaching practices, as well as in the teaching tools and materials they use. Such an approach would enable educators to develop the knowledge and skills needed to recognise inequality in educational opportunities, to carry out specific interventions that constitute equal educational treatment in order to ensure equal educational outcomes. Educators would also be better placed to intervene effectively when violence gender-based emerges in schools and other educational settings.

However, it cannot all be left to individual actors: teaching staff and education support personnel should be adequately supported to respond effectively to SRGBV, in addition to being provided with preventative training. Although educators are the ‘first port of call’ given their daily interactions with students, teaching and learning do not happen in a vacuum, but within communities and societies. Not least because: ‘what knowledge [students acquire] and why, where, when and how it is used represent fundamental questions for the development of individuals in societies’ (UNESCO, 2015:16-17).

High quality, gender-sensitive teacher education can certainly enable educators to have a transformative impact through their teaching practices by challenging and breaking down the gender norms and stereotypes that buttress gender-based violence. But a whole community effort is required (from parents and school authorities right up to ministries and policy makers) if educators’ efforts are to bear fruit, and lead to long term changes in values, attitudes and behaviours. To succeed, gender-sensitive teaching must be accompanied by the careful and sustained undoing of gender inequalities in all dimensions of human societies.

Note: This blog entry was first published on UNGEI\'s website as part of the daily blog series developed by the Global Working Group to End School-Related Gender-Based Violence within the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-based Violence Campaign. This annual international campaign begins on November 25th and ends on December 10th, on International Human Rights Day. The theme for this year is: ‘From Peace in the Home to Peace in the World: Make Education Safe for All’.

The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect any official policies or positions of Education International.