Now it has crossed the boundary of doubt that investment in education for both boys and girls stands as one of the most important determinants of development having positive implications for all other measures of progress. Sending only boy children to schools does not occupy the thought of rural guardians as happened two decades ago. The present scene of rural secondary schools where the number of girl students outnumbers the boys makes us optimistic about a bright future generation. Educating the boys and girls proves a single and most powerful vehicle of self-advancement and holds the prospect of development for future generation. It undeniably makes a strong foundation of national development.
Does the educational reality of girls and boys and factors that affect their educational achievement satisfy the criteria of ensuring a gender-sensitive education environment in our schools and colleges? Are gender sensitivity in school management, learning environment, strategies for monitoring and evaluation and gender-sensitive practices exercised in our secondary and higher secondary educational institutions? Still a variety of reasons prevent girls from completing primary education level. Socio-economic, socio-cultural, and school related factors still stand as big barriers to ensure gender-friendly environment. Effective and equitable investment in education with sound economic policies promise poverty free nation as the examples of the developed nations. Education enables people to sue and extend their capabilities, develop skills, improve their livelihoods and increase their earning potential. And it also empowers them to participate in decision-making and in the transformation of their lives and societies. Education is central to the achievement of greater quality in society including men and women.
Boys and girls face different issues in educational institutions. Their dealing with emotions also goes differently. Sometimes their goals for life also prove different. Teachers, school management, curriculum should introduce a balanced way to deal with these issues and the teachers who directly deal with the students must have clandestine and transparent ideas about the different issues of boys and girls and our curriculum should reflect the same. When teachers remain aware of these issues they can reach their students in the best possible ways.
Until and unless teachers know their students all the studies in the world about different genders and lives of teenagers are meaningless. Relationships are especially important when it comes to gender sensitivity. Teachers must know their hearts and needs and have to realize that each student is unique. It is a wrong notion that all the students are bad and again girl students cannot do the same as boys do. Girl students face various barriers in the family, on the road, on the way to school. But classroom must be a place where they must feel absolutely safe and this is the duty of the teachers first to ensure it. Then come school and surrounding environment. If not, drop out of girls and giving the girls marriage at tender age due to security reasons cannot be narrowed down let along stopped. At the moment, the monitoring and evaluation tools address various aspects of curriculum implementation and school organization with no clear indication to measure gender sensitive strategies in the schools.
It is true that significant progress has been made at policy level to have gender sensitive education. The attitude towards the role of gender in language has been one of progressive change as more establishments, publishers and indeed society aim for gender neutral pronoun use and terms as opposed to gender specific. If we read books of various subjects, there will be many more references to ‘he’. However, nowadays it is more likely that he/she, he or she or even they plural they are used. Job titles have also gained gender neutrality for example, the transition from ‘fireman, to firefighter, ‘ policeman to police officer. Still many things remain to be done. School is the learning center where gender-sensitivity must be practiced otherwise the whole society will continue observing and experiencing male dominated phenomenon. Now is the time to go hand in hand rather than particular gender domination. Our education and curriculum are holding its key and this key must be used to open the lock.
MASUM BILLAH: Program Manager, BRAC Education Program, PACE and Vice-President, Bangladesh English Language Teachers Association (BELTA), Dhaka, Bangladesh.