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Gender Bias In Early Childhood Education

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An issue, which has long been swept under the carpet is gender biasedness in the early childhood setting. In a multicultural society like the Australian, gender is a topic of high sensitivity and complexity. This may be the reason why, but still not an excuse, the industry is packed with old-fashioned stereotypes about gender. For many, “equal but not the same” has become accepted view of the sexes, where particular behaviour, needs, learning styles and roles in society are perceived as innate (Wingrave, 2016). Society has linked the division of males and females so closely with our understanding of identity that individuals, including children from a very young age, are expected to act according to one or the other (Davies, 2003).

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Implications

Differences in gender roles become evident in children at young age and by the time boys and girls are three years old, they display different communication styles, participate in different activities, play more with same-sex peers and avoid peers of the opposite sex (Chapman, 2016). Often children’s competences and needs are represented in ways that position girls and boys as having different competences and needs, which may not necessarily be a valid statement (Hellman & Heikkil, 2014).

Early Childhood Settings

There are beliefs, that pursuing gender equity in ECE may compromise partnerships with parents and clashes with multicultural perspectives (MacNaughton, 2001). To respond to stereotypical expectations by society, or even by parents, early childhood settings make uneducated decisions about centre polices or setting interior design, which deepens the issue.

Educators

Gender begins at birth and then expands and develops with the child as they grow and becomes part of their identity (Snowman et al. , 2009). Blaise and Taylor (2012) believe that children learn their gender by positioning themselves inside the masculine or feminine discourses that are available to them in the society. This implies the pivotal role of ECE practices as they potentially influence the build of identity in young children (Chapman, 2016).

EYLF

Although the EYLF has a strong focus on identity, it seems to not address the area of gender equity elaborately enough. The document only mentions gender in its introductory paragraph about identity. The framework aims to cater for children’s identity through multiple methods, however, the solutions for ensuring gender equality across the curriculum are non-existent. Hence, the EYLF fails to build pedagogies that challenge sexism (Chapman, 2016).

Society

Culturally rich societies are a prerequisite for pre-established gender stereotypes. Stereotypes can be present from early childhood as infants and toddlers are highly influential as they begin to understand themselves and start to adhere to gender roles (Aina and Cameron, 2011).

Importance

Does the sex either-orness assist children in achieving their full potential…? The answer is simple, short and definite – NO! Gender stereotypes place limitations on a child’s sense of identity, their living, and learning (MacNaughton, 2001). The early years is a critical period for combatting these stereotypes, as they can be limiting to a child’s emotional growth and development because they place boundaries on how a child should act and behave (Chapman, 2016). Therefore, Issues of gender equality need to be considered at all stages of the curriculum planning and delivery. This action plan aims to lift the veil and uncover the negative implications of gender biasness across the early childhood setting. It aims to spread awareness and challenge the assumptions around gender formation and identity in children. The advocacy plan is designed to reach and influence staff members and families.

Objectives

Every big step starts with a small intention. This advocacy plan aims to lift the veil of this long-existing issue. This may be a challenging task as in culturally diverse countries like Australia gender norms can vary greatly from one family to another. Therefore, introducing the issue is a sensitive step. To communicate this, the early childhood I would issue an informative parent newsletter. In addition, staff must be also made aware of the focus and direction of actions. This could be achieved through the distribution of information brochures or via sending out internal email contacting information on the issue.

Research has proven that rather than acting as facilitators of equality, educators often enhance the gender segregation by unintentionally promoting gender roles and stereotyping (Chapman, 2016). Children intuitively understand their teachers’ gender-related beliefs and expectations, which can influence their own understanding of gender identity (Huggins, 2014). Additionally, educators influence play patters in children. In turn, play has been found to shape developmental activity in which children learn about gender roles in unfavourable ways such as the modelling of stereotyped gender roles (Lynch, 2015). Teachers segregate kindergarten students based on gender in order to facilitate education-class games. Moreover, teachers tend to praise girls for their hairstyles, clothing and nurturing behaviours, and boys for their physical size (Blaise, 2005). Furthermore, according to Ewing and Taylor (2009) educators have gender-twisted expectations for children’s behaviour in the classroom and tend to reward and punish differently boys’ and girls’ behaviours according to those expectations.

However, teachers appear to be unaware of the consequences of such actions (Lynch, 2005). Teacher tend to have individual deep-seated beliefs surrounding the concept of gender (Huggins, 2014). This variance in perception contains the essence of gender bias. Wingrave (2016) proposes that educators need to be re-educated in order to support changes to practice that could, in turn, provide children with more equitable teaching and learning experiences. Therefore, educators will undergo coaching and retraining sessions aimed at ensuring that everybody is aware of their influence on children’s understanding of gender and their role in breaking stereotypes. In short, proposed practice for teachers include: nurturing flexible thinking across all situations; finding opportunities for children to step outside their comfort zones in regard to activities, peer relationships and personal challenges; foster advocacy skill in oneself and others. If an educator notices gender bias in the classroom, they have the potential to deconstruct children’s gender stereotyping, thus neutralising gender bias (Aina & Cameron, 2011; Dewar et al. , 2013).

Therefore, educators need to become critically self-reflective and question their prejudiced believes (Brandy et al. , 2013). By taking reflective practices, teachers are able to make better-informed decisions. Warin and Adriany (2017) also suggest gender flexible pedagogy as a solution for eliminating gendered practices rooted in the teachers’ beliefs. Educators must develop gender consciousness before they can deliver gender conscious pedagogy.

Research suggests that early childhood settings can represent highly gendered environments (Huggins, 2014). Another discussion revolves around the educational setting’s physical environment, more specifically gendered play and toys (Wohlwend, 2012). Boys and girls demonstrate differences with regard to their preferred toys. Children prefer toys considered appropriate for their gender as toys continue to be differentiated by marketers with respects to gender (Cherney et al. , 2003). While boys’ toys are related to technology and action, girls’ focus on care and nurturing (Francis, 2010). For example, toys for girls were described as creative, nurturing and manipulable, while toys for boys were identified as more constructive, aggressive, competitive and reality-based.

In addition, it has been found that toys stereotyped as male were often vehicles, guns, balls and construction toys, whereas female toys often included stuffed toys and domestically oriented toys (Cherney et al. , 2003). Additionally, children were attracted to certain types of toys and play corners according to their colour, where pink seemed to be the girls’ favourite and blue appeared to be appealing to boys (Cherney & Dempsey, 2010). According to Solomon and Henderson (2016) young children are constantly making sense of their world, modifying their theories along the way. Therefore, adults can help them reconsider their stereotyped truths about gender. If children are exposed to resources, which counter stereotypes they are likely to adjust their current understandings. Therefore, all educators will be asked to ensure that the resources children are exposed to are 100% stereotype free. This includes: blue and pink are not to be used as colours to guide children’s choices; provided toys will be unisex and appropriate to use by everybody; play-areas are to be redesigned in a manner that reflects a stereotype free philosophy.

Third month into implementation and ongoing

Encourage play that does not represent gender stereotypes

Research has found that, naturally, boys are inducted into battle and superhero play and girls into home scenarios play and fairy tales taking roles such as mother teacher and princes (Huggins, 2014). When observed, boys chose active and space-using games, which develop their gross motor skills and involved play in large groups, such as football (Harten et al. , 2008). On the contrary, during observation, girls engaged in passive small-group games, which take less space and involve creativity. They tended to play with household items, manipulatives and chose relationship-building themes. Interestingly enough, when left alone in the room all children engaged in predominantly feminine play. This proves that children adjusted their behaviour to fit the expectations of society and the common norm. Moreover, children find it difficult to engage in behaviours with the opposite sex as this is often followed by bullying and exclusion (Lynch, 2015). Because of this, children often continue in stereotyped playing even if adults strive to create equity. Children’s play will be thoughtfully observed and documented. Educators will cautiously interfere in their play, should they notice exclusion or bullying. To support this process further, staff will intervene proactively by challenging taken-for-granted assumptions and offering wider possibilities for play.

An essential part of this plan is its continuous ongoing monitoring. Having regular progress follow-ups is an integral part of ensuring everybody is on board. This will help eliminate any diversion off the plan and misconduct. It will also help to detect areas of improvement and identify gaps in the plan to be corrected. For this reason refresher meetings are to be held annually.

Key Aspects of Success

Uncompromised Consistency is considered paramount for achieving best results. Additionally, it is vital that we establish excellent communication channels to spread the word and to ensure information flowing amongst all stakeholders – centre management, educators, project activists and families. Lastly, it is important that the direction of actions is supported by empirical evidence and academic research as a way to ensure correct approach.

Challenges

The implementation of this plan may face two major challenges. Firstly, this initiative may encounter criticism and may not be welcomed positively by everyone. This is because the Australian society is very diverse in ethnicity, which ultimately influences people’s views on gender. In support of this statement, in her work about performativity theory, Butler (1990) states that gender is a socio-culturally constricted term. The self is produced via enactment of discourse and with time, it becomes nature. In other words, people become what they are exposed to. Marketing techniques, over which we have little control, are another threat for the full successful implementation of the plan. This is mostly valid with concern to the attempt to ensure gender unbiased physical environment. Nowadays, toys are manufactured by companies, which utilise witty marketing strategies in order to create demand. Children are very vulnerable to influence and thus an easy target for marketers who design toys with respects to gender (Cherney et al. , 2003).

Outcomes for Children

The result of these actions is improved wellbeing of children. Children will grow in a supportive gender stereotype free environment. They will be actively encouraged and given permission to experiment with their gendered identities. This will allow them to discover their full potential and will increase their learning capacity.

18 May 2020

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