Special Training for Schools to Tackle Gender Stereotypes; 'OCCUPATIONAL SEGREGATION' EVIDENT AMONG CHILDREN

Article excerpt

Byline: GARETH EVANS Education Correspondent gareth.evans@walesonline.co.uk

SCHOOLS in Wales are being offered specialist training to help teachers tackle the gender stereotypes which prevent many young children from pursuing their dream careers. The Fair Foundations courses are free and form part of a wider programme designed to tackle popular misconceptions and encourage pupils to see all occupations as being accessible to both sexes.

The innovative scheme is being introduced this term in convergence areas as part of the European Social Fund and Welsh Government-funded Agile Nation project being run by the women's economic development body for Wales, Chwarae Teg.

It has been introduced in light of extensive research which shows "occupational segregation" is already evident among children in the Foundation Phase of primary education.

Emma Richards, project development manager for Agile Nation, who manages Fair Foundations, said the deep-rooted tendency for boys and girls to favour different occupations is the competitiveness of the Welsh economy.

She said gender stereotypes limit productivity and Wales fails to use all available talent, with women being pushed towards lower-skilled and lower-paid jobs.

She said: "We need to address this at primary school age before children's attitudes become fixed and harder to change. It's not a question of trying to alter children's natural behaviour but rather to increase teachers' awareness of how they can avoid reinforcing stereotypes that limit their pupils' options in later life."

The course focuses on ways in which teachers can shape the classroom environment and the content of lessons to make clear that all activities and options are open to both boys and girls.

Among other things, it encourages teachers to use role models that counteract gender stereotypes such as female builders, firefighters, scientists, explorers and inventors; and male teachers, carers or nurses.

It also urges them to allow children to explore gender atypical activities - either through role play, storytelling or the use of agents like puppets or dolls - and to talk to children regularly about gender and stereotypes.

Ms Richards added: "In the long term, stereotyping can limit children's ability to fulfil their learning potential: girls are less likely to engage with science, maths, technology and ICT, while some boys may reject reading and writing as being effeminate activities. …