Sexism and Sex Stereotyping in Primary Education
1. Reports from the Seminars
1.1It is clear from the Inspectors’ Reports that the majority of principal teachers, both male and female, in opening the discussion, stressed that they did not regard Sexism and Sex Stereotyping as a significant problem in Primary Schools. Many Principals felt that girls and boys are already being treated equally, and that it would have been of greater importance to discuss other topics such as the lack of employment for teachers, the pupil/teacher ratio, discipline and the abolition of corporal punishment, the provision of equipment, grants and the school building programme.
1.2A substantial number of Principals subsequently agreed, having considered the evidence presented, that there are some practices in Primary Schools indicative of Sex Stereotyping. These practices arise mostly from the Hidden Curriculum and are based on deeprooted attitudes and patterns of behaviour. Examples cited were:-
(a)chores like cleaning, tidying, taking care of infants, are assigned only to girls;
(b)there is a tendency to differentiate between girls and boys in lessons on Art and Craft, and in Physical Education; some efforts at teaching knitting to boys have been thwarted by parents and by peer pressure among boys themselves; the lack of Physical Education facilities in schools leads to a concentration on field games;
(c)some teachers have different expectations for boys and for girls, e.g. in matters of discipline and in the teaching of mathematics;
(d)except in infant classes, girls and boys are segregated in classrooms;
(e)even in rollbooks, boy’s names are placed ahead of girls’ names;
(f)school sporting events are generally organised to suit boys.
1.3It was generally agreed that the male/female imbalance in teaching staffs, particularly in junior and in single sex schools, gives rise to attitudes leading to sex stereotyping. Very fewmale teachers teach infant classes and similarly, few female teachers are given senior boys’ classes. Such staffing arrangements have a conditioning effect on both teachers and pupils.
It was also made clear that there is a great imbalance in the proportion of male to female student teachers, and that male teachers are held to be inadequately trained to take charge of infant classes.
1.4The point was often made that children come to school with preconceived ideas, derived from their parents attitudes and from the media, regarding the roles of boys and girls. School life often reflects these parental attitudes.
1.5Appreciation was expressed for the work of the Minister in eliminating sexism and sex stereotyping from textbooks. Instances of sexism and sex stereotyping, however, are still found in some textbooks.
Anxiety was expressed regarding the cost to parents if too many textbooks are replaced too quickly.
1.6The existence of a blind spot in relation to the issue was noted. Lack of information and ignorance, on the part of parents and teachers, lead to prejudice. Parents often lack information on school policy and on proposals to eliminate discrimination, and there is a failure to enlist their support.
1.7A number of Principal teachers maintain that there is less stereotyping in small rural schools.
There was general agreement at the majority of the seminars in favour of all schools being co-educational.
1.8Some disquiet was expressed that in the search for equality the tradition virtues of courtesy and chivalry would be lost.
At one seminar, the participants voiced the opinion that civilization would suffer if women deserted their homes and the rearing of their families. An anxiety also expressed was that women are becoming the majority in still more professions, in addition to their traditional areas of work.
1.9It was generally agreed at all the seminars that discrimination, sexism and sex stereotyping are wrong, and that girls’ talents, ambitions and opportunities should be fostered. Children must be prepared for changes in future lifestyles and the State must utilise all the talents of all its citizens. The participants agreed that the seminars had increased their levels of interest, understanding and awareness in the efforts to eliminate sexism and sex stereotyping in education, and had provided a framework for further thought and discussion.
2. Main Recommendation made by Principal Teachers
2.1Teachers need to be alert and to discuss that subject with their colleagues in order to sharpen their awareness of discrimination.
Equality will evolve if teachers are aware, but change cannot be forced.
2.2School policy on sexism and sex stereotyping should be incorporated into the Plean Scoile.
2.3Parents should be informed of school policy and of proposals to eliminate discrimination, and their help should be enlisted.
2.4Parent/Teacher meetings should be used to inform parents.
2.5Pupils in senior primary school classes and their parents should be given career counselling. Information about subjects and combinations of subjects, and their effects on pupils’ career expectations and employment prospects, should be available.
2.6Primary school pupils need correct models, both male and female. There should be mixed staffs in single sex schools, in junior and in senior schools.
2.7All primary schools should be co-educational.
2.8With regard to school work generally:-
(a)boys and girls should show equal respect for themselves and for each other;
(b)pupils should not be segregated on the basis of sex;
(c)girls and boys should participate in common games and activities; suitable play areas and Physical Education facilities should be provided;
(d)responsibilities and chores should be shared between girls and boys;
(e)pupils’ talents should be developed equally regardless of gender;
(f)senior pupils should be aware of interrelationships between boys and girls, and the effects of sex stereotyping;
(g)boys and girls should be taught handcrafts, e.g. cooking and knitting to boys, woodwork for girls; equipment and facilities to do this should be provided;
(h)girls should be encouraged to take Mathematics and Science at second level in order to extend their range of choices.
2.9Positive discrimination in favour of men should be exercised in selecting student teachers.