Exploring and Understunding Gender in Education
A Qualitative Research Manual for Education Practitioners and Genders Focal Points
“Gender” refers to the social roles and responsibilities that are believed to belong to men and women within a particular social group; for example, “men as income earners” and “women as child caregivers.” Gender roles are created by a society and are learned from one generation to the next as part of a society’s culture. Because gender is a socially learned perception (for instance, learned in the family or in school), anything associated with it can be changed to achieve equity and equality for both women and men. In other words, we can change the gender roles of “women as child caregivers” to “women as income earners,” “men as income earners” to “men as child caregivers,” or, better yet, “men and women as income earners and child caregivers.”
Conducting qualitative research into gender in education means exploring and understanding the ways in which these socially-defined roles and responsibilities are reflected in our classrooms, schools, communities, and the educational system, and how they may place one sex (girls or boys) at a disadvantage. For instance, do they affect whether or not girls and boys have equal opportunities to enter school? Do they affect how girls and boys interact with each other as equals? Do they affect how girls and boys interact with their teachers (male and female)? Are these roles and responsibilities reflected as gender stereotypes in the curriculum the children are taught, in the textbooks that they use, as well as in the wider educational system of which they are a part?
The goal of qualitative research into gender in education is to contribute to ensuring gender equality for girls and boys and to eliminating gender stereotyping. This means that girls and boys have equal opportunities to enter school as well as equal opportunities to participate in, and benefit from, the range of subjects or other learning experiences that are offered in classrooms and schools. They are equally equipped with skills and attitudes that will help them to achieve their fullest potential within and outside of the educational system regardless of their sex.