Do Teachers Treat Boys and Girls Differently?
While schools are often considered as inclusive and fair, in reality, teachers tend to treat male and female students differently.
Gender inequality starts in early childhood and continues much after graduate school. Teachers play a significant role in shaping students' perceptions, beliefs, and understanding of gender roles. Governments, schools, and teachers themselves are all accountable for promoting gender equity in the classroom, as specified by UNESCO.
Today, some teachers receive training to provide unbiased instruction in the classroom. Despite these efforts, gender inequality remains a global concern. Starting from a young age, children are dependent on adults' behavior to learn how to act in society.
According to the Institute of Education Sciences, preschool teachers are crucial in promoting positive gender norms and narrowing the gender gap. Kids are social observers and are always watching trusted adults like their parents and teachers in order to better understand the world around them.
Let’s look at how gender inequality manifests in schools, the impact it can have on students, and strategies to promote gender equality in classrooms.
Teachers Have Different Expectations for Male and Female Students
Even though male and female students may attend the same school, their learning experiences are different because of the different expectations school teachers have for students depending on their gender.
According to Gender Equality Law, school teachers’ expectations that lead to gender bias in preschool and elementary school often manifest as gender stereotypes. Here are a few common harmful statements or gender-based assumptions that can contribute to this inequality:
- Girls should play with Barbies and dolls. Boys should play with trucks.
- Boys should not like the color pink.
- Boys should pursue typical male-dominated professions like firefighters and policemen
- Girls should wear dresses.
- Girls do better in language than boys.
- Boys outperform girls in math and science.
- Girls should be quiet and follow the rules.
- Boys usually act out and disrupt the classroom. They should not be punished because “boys will always be boys.”
- Boys are better at physical activities because they are stronger
- Girls are not interested in math, science, technology, and engineering.
- Boys are expected to bully others.
- Girls should always be neat and clean.
Common Examples of Gender Bias in Schools
Here are some of the most common examples of gender bias in schools.
1. Teachers Grade Girls and Boys Differently
Teachers grade girls and boys differently, according to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Teachers tend to give female students higher grades because they believe that girls have better classroom behavior.
Female and male students can have equal academic performances, but because girls are less disruptive in the classroom and more eager to learn, they receive higher grades.
2. Popular Classroom Books Teach Traditional Gender Roles
Reading is essential in preschool and elementary school because it encourages creativity and improves language skills. Unfortunately, many of the books that primary school teachers read are gender biased. According to the U.S. Department of Education, research shows that many books read by kindergarten teachers contain characters who conform to stereotypical gender roles.
The female characters in the books were portrayed in traditional roles. In many older children’s stories and fairy tales, femininity is viewed as a weakness, and female characters rely on male characters for support. In contrast, the majority of male characters in fairy tales and early childhood books take on leadership roles.
3. Gender Stereotypes During Playtime
According to UNICEF, it is crucial to avoid gender stereotypes during playtime. Teachers tend to separate students by gender. They may encourage female students to play with dolls. This unconsciously teaches young students that girls and women should grow up to be caregivers.
On the other hand, male students are encouraged to play with trucks or participate in physical activities. This could encourage male students to be violent at a very young age.
4. Teachers Using Gendered Language
Teachers may have unconscious beliefs about gender differences and how they affect people’s behavior. Sayings like, “You have to be a good girl” and “boys will be boys” are said a lot to kids in early childhood, particularly by those who come from older generations.
These statements give children the idea that girls are always good and follow the rules, and boys always break the rules.
5. Unequal Classroom Interactions
A teacher’s social interaction with her/his students is one of the main causes of gender bias. According to the British Council, teachers ask more questions to boys, praise them for trying when they give a wrong answer, allow them to speak for longer, and allow them to interrupt girls when they’re speaking.
Most teachers who are asked about teacher-student relationships say that they do not let male students speak speaking over female students. However, studies suggest that teachers engage in this behavior unconsciously.
The Impact of Gender Bias on Children
A child’s development relies on his/her surroundings and experiences in life. Being exposed to gender stereotypes affects children’s development by limiting certain learning skills, harming academic performance and the well-being of children, and increasing harassment towards girls both in and out of the classroom.
Gender Inequality Limits Learning Skills
Teachers sometimes divide students into gender groups. They encourage female students to play with dolls or draw pictures, while male students are encouraged to play with blocks and trucks.
Each toy given to preschool children teaches a child a new skill. The toys aid in the development of cognitive, motor, and linguistic skills. Dolls assist children in developing social skills. Blocks aid in the development of math and science skills.
Every child, regardless of gender, should play with a variety of toys to develop all of the skills required to reach his or her full potential. Gender bias in toy selection can limit learning abilities.
Gender Bias Negatively Affects Academic Performance
Children are taught that boys are smarter in science and math and girls are smarter in language. When female students are given the option of selecting specific subject areas to study in high school, they tend to avoid STEM subjects.
This attitude influences kids’ future career choices. Fortunately, universities like Edith Cowan University are starting to encourage more female students to study science, technology, math, and engineering subjects to fight again gender bias.
Gender Discrimination Harms Kids’ Well-Being
Being exposed to gender stereotypes at a young age can hurt children's well-being. Female students may grow up disliking their bodies because they do not conform to the stereotypical image of a female body.
Those who do not conform to traditional gender roles may also be bullied or hated by others. Unfortunately, this hurts their mental health, leading to depression, low self-esteem, and anxiety.
Finally, girls are often taught that they are more sensitive, weak, and innocent than boys are. According to Atlantis Press, this idea causes many young girls to develop submissive personalities.
Boys, on the other hand, are taught to be tough. Young boys who grow up being told that men must be strong and stoic begin to believe that it is inappropriate for them to express their emotions. According to Kentucky Counseling Center, keeping your emotions bottled up can lead to constant anxiety and mood swings.
Gender Bias Leads to Higher Levels of Harassment
Female students experience more bullying and harassment as a result of gender bias. Girls are always criticized much more than boys since teachers expect more of them. Female students may feel discouraged because they rarely receive positive feedback.
Teaching boys that they are superior and stronger than girls leads to an environment of harassment of girls whether it is physical, emotional, or verbal. According to the National Library of Medicine (NIH), there is a direct link between sexism in schools and sexual violence.
10 Steps Educational Systems Should Follow to Create Gender-Inclusive Classrooms
According to UNICEF, schools and governments should call on parents and teachers to follow a few steps to promote gender equality. Young children should be able to understand their own gender without being exposed to gender differences in the classroom.
Here are some ways to create a gender-inclusive classroom.
Address gender stereotypes immediately
When children say girls can’t play with cars, ask them why. Make them question their own beliefs and understand that all children can play with toys equally. If children role-play as the opposite gender, you should allow them to play and explore different identities.
Young children should play with a wide range of toys that are gender inclusive
Games and toys that promote creativity and problem-solving should be encouraged. Also, allow all children regardless of gender to play with different toys and games.
Teachers should place both boys and girls in the same group
Students should not be divided based on gender. If they must divide the kids, they should group them according to other factors like birthdays, favorite colors, or favorite food.
Choose books that do not display common gender stereotypes
Look for books that are diverse and include characters who play central roles regardless of gender and are of all types of ethnicities.
Administrators should hire both female and male teachers
Oftentimes school systems have many more female teachers compared to male teachers, but it’s important for children to be exposed to educators of all genders and backgrounds.
Let all children play sports and games even if they’re rough or physical
Both boys and girls should be encouraged to play outdoors and get dirty! Physical activity, sports, and exercise are very important for children’s well-being.
- Teachers and parents should regularly have conversations about gender equality
It’s just as important that kids are exposed to these positive perceptions both in the classroom and at home.
Teach kids not to use gender stereotypes like “girls are weak” or “boys are violent”
If children used gender-stereotypical phrases, teachers should explain to them that everyone is free to play with whatever they want.
Teach that gender is only one part of someone’s whole identity or personality
According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC), teachers and parents should tell children that each individual is unique, and that gender is only a small part of someone’s identity.
Teachers should make all students feel important by listening to everything they have to say.
The Bottom Line on Gender Inequality and Schools
Consciously or unconsciously, today’s teachers treat boys and girls differently in classrooms. Boys are given more opportunities than girls. Disparities in gender influence the development of children, and this negative impact continues to grow with the children.
In order to encourage more equal opportunities for kids as they learn and grow, schools and teachers need to create gender-inclusive classrooms to provide girls and boys with equal opportunities to learn and grow.
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