Teaching Gender equality to children in schools is the way to go. A review of Uganda’s school attendance for both boys and girls indicates a level of gender parity courtesy of several initiatives by stakeholders. The parity can be viewed as a success considering that girls’ attendance was very low in previous years.
Some of the adopted approaches aimed at increasing girls’ school attendance include enacting the Gender in Education Policy and the National Strategy for Girls’ Education. The regulations are part of a wider goal to promote the importance of gender mainstreaming, integration of gender interventions, measures, and experiences to improve equity in the education sector.
According to a 2017 Ministry of Education report, almost 50% of eligible girls are attending school. Worth noting is that access to Universal Primary Education increased from 2.5 million students in 1997 to 8.4 million as of 2017.
The focus on supporting school enrolment is anchored on the fact that education is more than a social service; it plays a vital role in shaping the understanding of gender roles and responsibilities and internalizing positive gender norms during childhood and adolescence. However, the Ugandan school system remains a dominant source of gender bias and stereotyping.
There is a need to break this barrier since educational spaces are critical influences on children. School is at the heart of socialization and an area where young minds are exposed to role models outside the home setting. It is where children learn about the world, their interests, and their capabilities.
Notably, education can reinforce existing norms or challenge and transform them, not just for children but for their parents, communities, and nations. After all, children go home after school and talk about what they learn.
The education system therefore plays a critical role in promoting gender equality and providing opportunities for girls and boys to contribute equally and positively to peace building processes for future generations.
In this line, based on the Global Media Monitoring Project (GMMP) report 2020, news sources reported that Uganda’s female students, pupils, and school children are more than double in Africa. While female academic experts, lecturers and teachers, and under-represented news sources in Uganda and Africa are shown in the figure below.
Prioritizing gender equality in and through education has the potential to transform societies and bring about gender justice, climate justice, economic justice and
Education systems need to evolve to become ‘gender transformative’ as part of unlocking this potential. This needs to start right from early childhood when ideas about gender identity and expressions start forming.
Gender transformative education is about inclusive, equitable, quality education and nurturing an environment of gender justice for children, adolescents and young people in all their diversity.
Implementing this system has the capability to remove barriers and boost progress towards significant social shifts, such as the reduction of gender-based violence and early marriage, increased participation of women in the labour market, the promotion of gender equality, and women’s and girls’ leadership in decision-making roles.
Overall, schools have enormous potential to impact social change, transform gender relations, and expand the range of possibilities for boys and girls.
By three to five years old, children demonstrate self-identification with gender and an awareness of the expectations and roles associated with being a ‘girl’ or a ‘boy.’ By Nine years old, children can read and understand what they learn in school and the ability to read and write increases the pupil’s comprehension of the information provided in the different learning areas.
The figure below shows the Global Gender Gap Report 2021, gender statistics of literacy rate in Uganda.
The UBOS statistics report released in 2020 indicated that the literacy rate of children over ten years accounts for 77% for boys while girls have a share of 70%. However, there is a significant disparity based on the location where boys in urban areas are at 89% and rural 74%. Elsewhere, literacy levels among urban girls stand at 85% compared to their rural counterparts, with a share of 64%.
The government needs to ensure that gender equality is incorporated into the school curriculum using a gender transformative approach to meet equality in schools. An overview of the current education system indicates that learning processes are instilled with persistent and inbuilt gender differences.
In most cases, female and male students are subjected to different socialization in classrooms and are rewarded under various attributes. Girls tend to be directed at learning and reinforcing femininity, thereby learning to be submissive and passive instead of
being independent and thoughtful. As a result, the schools are primarily unable to provide a gender-responsive environment for effective teaching and learning outcomes.
In rural Uganda, some roles like cleaning the school compound are mainly allocated to girls. This mentality is viewed as orienting girls toward domestic responsibilities and prioritizing marriage, having children, and running a household.
On the other hand, boys are more oriented toward material objects such as bicycles and books and thus towards immaterial objects of ambition, freedom, leadership, and authority, all geared toward life beyond the home.
Interestingly, boys and men are also affected by perceived gender norms, restricted by harmful masculinity. Early in adolescence, boys may start to face expectations to become income earners because they were taught at a young age that a man is supposed to take care of his family. A majority drop out of school and venture into odd jobs or betting. In some cases, they turn to crime. Therefore, the needs of boys also should be considered when teaching and learning positive gender norms.
The disparity is further complicated because the primary school curriculum is silent about gender. The 2019 curriculum notes that the main subjects taught in primary schools are English, Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies. The subjects don’t focus on gender. The objectives address general educational concerns but ignore the question of promoting equity in the subjects.
Teaching and learning materials are fundamental to the process and are critical for shaping young minds. Teaching is mainly gender-biased, and many teachers do not give
girls and boys have equal participation opportunities.
Under the current system, teachers are not aware that the language they use in the classroom reinforces negative gender attitudes. They usually give girls the impression that they are not as intelligent as they are.
For instance, in my primary school, my class teacher always encouraged boys in a situation where girls were leading in a class by telling them.
“Boys in my class need to stop embarrassing me and work hard, you can’t allow girls to perform better than, you.”
Such sentiments were also synonymous with subjects like Mathematics. Additionally, in some cases, girls are discouraged from putting more effort into their studies because their future husbands are working hard on their behalf.
Such gender biases expressed through language discourage most students from taking science-related subjects due to perceived difficulties. Negative stereotypes can transfer to girls and play a critical role in developing STEM attitudes and interests.
For this reason, female students in an all-girls learning environment thrive in what has been traditionally regarded as male-dominated subjects, free from gender bias or social pressure. Uganda is a patriarchal society where teachers’ perceptions of males and females become crucial for their academic performance.
Textbooks and other teaching-learning materials.
Teaching and learning materials also reinforce gender stereotypes. For example, most textbooks in Uganda have distinct gender stereotypes. English textbooks mostly show doctors and pilots as men or teach children to draw doctors as men. Women are illustrated as mothers and home caretakers.
As the children advance to primary five, most Social Studies textbooks mention heroes in liberation struggles, yet there were also heroines. The math teacher is usually illustrated as a man in the Maths textbooks, while the English teacher is often a woman.
Another epidemic affecting Ugandan rural schools is teenage pregnancies which are common. The girls are forced to drop out while adolescent boys who are fathers are allowed to continue their education. In most cases, girls are excluded and discriminated against alongside the marginalized within education systems.
Initiatives to address these disparities should begin from the primary level by mainstreaming gender into the curriculum. One approach to mainstreaming gender into the curriculum should incorporate the perspectives and experiences of all students and discussions on gender matters across the curriculum.
Additionally, gender can also be incorporated as a separate section or unit; for example, they can consist of lessons on; the promotion of equal rights for men and women in the family and identification of inequalities between men and women.
The government also needs to address the gender imbalance in teachers. In this case, the sex distribution of teachers often reinforces messages about gender. There is a great need to increase the number of gender-sensitive female teachers and administrators in the education system.
There is evidence that males dominate learning/studying, teaching, educational administration, and policy monitoring and evaluation. There should be a shift in policy to include more women, particularly in policy formulation, monitoring and evaluation.
The current top leadership, policy monitors and evaluators need to be sensitized on how to become more gender-sensitive. The government could encourage the establishment of NGOs working towards achieving greater gender parity in education.
Teachers’ gender-responsive training should also be a priority in teacher training courses and programs. It is essential to equip teachers with knowledge, skills and attitudes to empower them to respond adequately to the learning needs of girls and boys through using gender-aware classroom processes and practices.