/ 30 March 2022

Inclusive education: Girls and boys must be treated equally

Gauteng Legislature Conducts Media Tour At Mayibuye Primary School In South Africa
Class sizes, academics, sports, cultural activities, facilities and matric results are important, but not as important to a child who feels welcome and nurtured and has friends. (Photo by Sharon Seretlo/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

The education sector has, since democracy in 1994, placed the “girls’ agenda” at the centre of care and support interventions for vulnerable children to address inequality, according to the minister of basic education, Angie Motshekga

“We were very keen to unlock the great potential that could be achieved by households and families to escape the poverty trap through the decisive and intentional education for girls,” Motshekga told a virtual panel discussion facilitated by the British Council and television channel CNBC Africa.

The forum on Tuesday focused on education in African countries for girls whose place in the classroom is often not guaranteed because of unequal systems in society.

“There’s still a gender stigma type that is associated with social cultural practices, where women are deemed to be the bearers of all the chores at home,” said Vuyo Nomlomo, deputy vice-chancellor of teaching and learning at the University of Zululand. 

She pointed out disparities between boys and girls in the African context, such as girls staying away from school because of their menstrual cycle and doing household chores considered to be a women’s job, which hampers learning. When girls go to school, the patriarchy dominated culture at home follows them to the classroom, she argued.

“What needs to happen [is] to create awareness within teacher education. To alert them of the value of gender equality in the way they interact with students, to apply inclusive pedagogy so that everyone feels included whether it’s a boy or girl,” Nomlomo said. 

An inclusive approach to all educational endeavours in Africa is fundamental in establishing equal learning opportunities for all learners, Nomlomo said, adding that there must be deliberate and strategic action taken in schools and with teachers.

Panellist Linah Anyanco, a teacher in Kenya, highlighted a “gender responsive pedagogy” where a teacher could tailor-make teaching methods and language to ensure that girls participate in, and are inspired by, the learning material. 

Anyanco referenced how teachers’ perceptions were reflected in comments such as how girls did not have to work because they would end up marrying boys, or questioning girls’ choices to take physics as a subject.

“That’s a very loose remark which might discourage girls from working hard,” said Anyanco.

According to research by the British Council, 54% of nearly 3 000 school leaders and teachers in Zimbabwe, Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana are interested in skills and development regarding gender inclusive practices, 

“We’re moving away from a sort of general gender blind approach to education [to] individual needs of students, and one of the largest groups, of course, is girls,” said Andrew Zerzan, the British Council director of education, arts and civil society in sub-Saharan Africa.

He pointed out how girls are often overlooked in classrooms and said cultural pressures resulted in them being told they could not take subjects in the fields of science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM). Zerzan added that this has been addressed by the European Union in South Africa through a programme called Teaching for All.

“We help new teachers through some methodologies to make sure that girls get that opportunity in [STEM] subjects. They are able to thrive just as much as boys, and we’ve seen real tangible evidence of that making a difference across South Africa,” he said. 

Motshekga said her department, with the help of the British Council, had supported the development and implementation of the Teaching for All programme.

“Teaching for All is a diversity management intervention that is aimed at facilitating the inclusion of children in their diversity — including a gender responsive teaching methodology,” she said. 

The Equal Education Law Centre (EELC) bemoaned what it called the “tragic lack of political will to realise the vision of an inclusive education in South Africa has resulted in two decades of learners being denied their right to quality inclusive education”.

In a report published at the beginning of March, the public interest law centre found inclusive teaching and learning in South Africa had not met the objectives in Education White Paper 6, Building an Inclusive Education System — a 20-year implementation plan that ended in 2021. 

The paper recognised the critical role that educators play in ensuring that all children are participating meaningfully and achieving success in learning. 

“Despite some progress made, the targets set for teacher training in both White Paper 6 and SIAS [Screening, Identification, Assessment, and Support Policy] have not been met,” the EELC found.

It suggested that all teacher training include a compulsory core module encompassing an understanding of broad inclusive education principles “as well as inclusive pedagogy”.

It also said teachers’ skills must be constantly monitored and new teachers must be provided with a “12-month induction with sufficient content on inclusive classroom practice”.