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Shaping A Child's Gender Identity:
The Role Of School

By Simon Bhuiyan

16 August, 2007

Schooling is one of the most important socialization processes that a child goes through outside her family. It shapes the child's understanding of self in relation to others. The schools and the teachers play a very important role in a child's formative years The child starts to understand her/his identity beyond the family, role that each one in the society assumes, through friends, teachers in school and most importantly books that they read in class room. A child's understanding of gender specific role gets almost fixed when schooling starts and get re-enforced every day by the behaviors towards them by the teachers, staff, member of the school. They start being actor of the patriarchal system and carry it along much after they have left school.

A School's ideological stance shapes up the stances of the children. The way children would look at gender relation and role, caste, class, history, etc are depended on how the schools look at these issues. The teachers at the school despite of being a separate identity outside school carry the same ideology of the school within the schools premises. So if a teacher is very caste biased then the children tent to see caste very differently, if a certain teacher has strong and traditional notion towards girls then the students' starts learning them and inculcating them in their life. But what is important is to see what influences the teachers to be what she / he are within the school when she/he might be a totally different person outside the school.

The experience from schools, shows that the larger school policy, the power relation of men and women employee, the stances on gender role and relation has an impact on the teachers too and that gets transferred to the students.

There are various structures existing in the schools, various power centers and relations of power centre. There also exists the operational system with in school. How the structures and operating systems of the structure look at gender, what are the considerations made or kept in mind while making / passing a operational policy in schools, what are the rules for each staff member and student, what are the considerations kept in mind while framing any policy in school, etc are also important deciding factors when comes to gender relations within school.

The structures of the schools usually are managing committee, the teachers committee, the non teaching staff committee and some schools have adhoc students committee. Within these structure (leaving aside the student's) there are substructure like principal of the school, the head mistress and high school teaching staff, the junior school teaching staff, the finance division, the administrative staff, the office bearer and group etc. It was experienced that any power relation (men to men, men to women, senior to junior, teacher's students etc) or gender based power relation within the structures and among the substructures varies at various aspect but primarily the relation is motivated by the institutions policy and culture practiced which would again be influenced by schools present gender based power relations.

Some of the example of the gender based power relations that I found common among schools are the decision regarding school's policy related to appointing new teachers, increase in the number of student , which board to follow , which children would be admitted and who would not, what are the percentage of middle and lower middle class children to get admission , ratio of girls and boys in school ,salary of the male and female teachers, school leave related policy, what subject to be taught by whom ( male or female ) all these kind of decisions would be made by the male members of managing committee because it's the man who occupy the highest position in the managing committee. Then they are passed on to the principal so that principal could pass them on to teacher's committee. The school managing committee mostly doesn't believes in taking new and young women teachers as they fear that they would soon ask for maternity leave and there is no provision for long time maternity leave for any female teachers nor there is any concept of paternity leave. The mathematics teachers are not female in most schools. The female members of the managing committee have the similar opinions regarding these matters as the men because they all depend on men to reconfirm their power within the committee. All these rules are made without any teacher's representation from the school other than the principal (in most cases, a woman). The decisions are passed to the teachers by the principal and as the decisions are not really teacher friendly the principal invariable loose support of the teachers. So the principal (mostly woman unless it's a boys school) depends on the male dominated administrative structure for support and to assume power. But in the whole process get co opted in the male dominated decision making process and the power of decisions changes hands to the male member of the administrative staff. So the women principal despite of being the power authority doesn't have much say in policy passing. Most women principal actually believes that as being a woman, the men in the school doesn't respect her and her only way of assuming respect is by getting the men to her side and giving in to their wishes. So women's problems and issue doesn't get much consideration in the whole cycle of male dominated structure. Most school's policy doesn't encourage women teachers to take leave on account of children's illness, firmly believes that a woman never make good math or science teacher, a newly married female teachers would not make great teachers as she would be busy with her personal life, mostly teacher is not allowed to come for half day in the school in case of emergency, they cannot take work to home. So when it comes to women teachers who are discriminated perpetuate discrimination in the class rooms where they create a power relation with students. It works like a venting process for the teachers. They make rule for the students which vary among girls and boys. Girls and boys are not allowed to sit together. The girls and boys student from higher class cant talk to each other, if seen together are punished. Many students shared that teachers always says that girls are not good at mathematics and should take home science as an option. The game teachers don't like girls in his team, the teachers would always ask a boy in the class to answer the questions even if the girls have raised their hand first, the girls are punished more for the same troubled caused by the boy because they assume that girls should not be encouraged to behave in that manner in which a boy does. None of the class monitors are female in higher classes. All the president of the school clubs is male. The guard of the schools is all male, most of the schools have no common room for girls .When talked to teachers on these issues they confirmed that these facts were true but they were merely following the culture promoted by the principal who again promote them for the managing committee.

Looking at the books children read in schools: The text books are selected by managing committee and the teachers who would teach them have no say on that. The student who read them has no say on that. The text books are full of stereotypical representations of man's and women's role, many a time wrong historical fact are mentioned and very patriarchal in its approach to education for children. It has stories for mother on mother's day with mother working at home, have brother's day, stories on various scientist who are all male. Bengal had many progressive women who were part of various movements but are totally omitted, there would no mentioned of any women scientist other than new entry like Kalpana Chawla that also not for being women scientist but for being Indian. In the process children learn about gender role and identity from their role model "The teachers " and carry it for the rest of their life.

Looking at the whole system of functioning of schools, it seems like schools are the factory of creating patriarch. When are talking of equality among genders, creating policy and law to uphold quality, how can we talk about all these without looking at our present: the children and their social process of learning. Can we really bring equality among genders through laws and policy without looking at changes in the basis of learning?


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