This summer, Christin Ho from RoSa vzw, a Belgian centre of expertise for gender equality and feminism, supported colleagues from VVOB in Cambodia in laying the foundations for TIGER. This latest EU-co-funded project in the country empowers teachers and school leaders to offer gender responsive education. Christin joined the TIGER team, which consists of both VVOB employees and staff from our local partner organisations, to finalise the action guide. This guide is the most important building block of TIGER and regrettably a rarity globally speaking: “It doesn’t matter if you’re schooled in Belgium, Cambodia, or anywhere else… every education system should have a similar roadmap so it can transform into a gender responsive system.”
“With this reflex, we mean learning to consciously see and manage gender differences to counter stereotyping”, Christin enlightens. “TIGER’s action guide will serve as the base for the professionalisation of teacher and school leaders on this, so these crucial actors become aware of gender challenges in the education system. After these trainings, they’ll be equipped with the necessary knowledge to create a (more) gender aware climate in their classrooms and schools.”
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports are closely involved in the project. Their support ensures its sustainability and wider reach in the long term.
Growing through (self) reflection
The action guide is a tool for inciting change. A roadmap with practical tips taken from educators’ daily realities supports schools in their transformation towards a gender responsive school. Not by pointing fingers, but by creating an open and positive space for discussion. An example: a textbook overflows with images of caring women and working men. A teacher can take this opportunity to go into dialogue with learners and colleagues:
- ‘What do you think of these images?’
- ‘Is this an accurate reflection of reality?’
- ‘Are women allowed to dream of a career, and men of spending more time with their children?’
“By starting this type of dialogue, young learners get the message that they are able to decide their futures for themselves”, Christin explains. “And teachers don’t need to buy new learning materials. A critical attitude towards what they already have, is enough.”
Stereotypes have an impact on how teachers teach and school leaders develop and implement school policies – consciously or not. It’s not right that boys are punished more severely than girls, and that girls have to do more class chores than boys. And not all boys are necessarily better at STEM, just like not all girls are better at languages.
“The action guide encourages teachers and school leaders to pay attention to the talents of the individual learner, not to their sex or stereotypical expectations”, Christin continues. “In other words, the TIGER project draws the attention of teachers and school leaders to their responsibility as pedagogues: to give all learners the opportunity to develop their own talents, irrespective of gender stereotypes.”
- Are all the aspects of gender responsive school policies addressed?
- Is the main message of the action guide – to create gender responsive education – clearly put forward in every separate chapter?
- Does the action guide have a positive message?
- Are teachers provided with enough concrete examples, tips and exercises from their daily realities?
- Does the action guide excite participants to start putting it into practice?
Once I arrived in Battambang, I went into an elaborate discussion with the TIGER team. Together we rewrote a few chapters and spent more time developing the assessment tool, a checklist of criteria with which teachers and school leaders can assess how far along their schools are regarding gender responsiveness.”
Belgian teachers and school leaders that get to know TIGER, recognise the challenges in Cambodia. The importance of education for gender equality transcends country boundaries, and yet the number of action guides for gender responsive education is small. “Stereotyping in classrooms is also a big problem in Belgium”, Christin shares. “Schools ask RoSa to facilitate workshops for youngsters about gender and the impact of stereotypes on their lives, but don’t often ask us to do the same thing for their teachers. Even though it’s the teachers that have such a big influence on their learners and even ask for help. It doesn’t matter if you’re schooled in Belgium, Cambodia, or anywhere else… every education system should have a roadmap so it can transform into a gender responsive system.”