Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Gendering the Foundation: Teaching Sexuality amid Sexual Danger and Gender Inequalities

Academic journal article Perspectives in Education

Gendering the Foundation: Teaching Sexuality amid Sexual Danger and Gender Inequalities

Article excerpt


... you respect the g/r/s, you don't h/t, you respect the g/r/s. You are not a/Zowed to touch the g/r/s, you are not a/Zowed to h/t the g/r/s, you are not a/Zowed to take the un/form ike this... because other boys w/ZZ do ike th/s to the g/r/s...

[In-depth /nterv/ew w/th a Grade 2 fema/e teacher, Mrs Z, /n an impoi/er/shed townsh/p pr/mary schooZ, KwaDabeka, in KwaZu/u-NataZJ

In South Africa, four study areas comprise Life Skills in the Foundation Phase as indicated by the Curriculum and Assessment Policy Statement (CAPS): Beginning Knowledge, Personal and Social Well-being, Creative Arts and Physical Education (Department of Basic Education, 2011: 13). Life Skills in the Foundation Phase aims at equipping young learners with knowledge that will allow them to improve their understandings of personal health and safety, and social relationships. Life Skills includes a focus on violence, abuse and safety within the broader ambit of rights and respect for others as sanctioned in the Constitution. It brings attention to the integration of gender, inequality, social and personal development of young learners but avoids the words 'sex' and 'sexuality'. Sexuality is not visible in CAPS, but it permeates the gendering of schooling experience where girls remain vulnerable to violence and harassment (Human Rights Watch, 2001). UNESCO (2009) notes the significance of addressing sexuality and gender issues in all stages of schooling (Blaise, 2009; MacNaughton, 2000; Baxen & Breidlid, 2009). In developing this focus, this paper draws on the testimony of one teacher, Mrs Z, and highlights the inadequacies of Life Skills in the Foundation Phase for its failure to explicitly locate sexuality education within the broader context of gender inequitable relations. Along these lines, the paper brings attention to developing interventions in the Foundation Phase that take heed of gender relations and sexuality, and children's active participation in gendered and sexual cultures in order to transform the current context of gender and sexual harassment.

This paper asks: How might gender and sexuality feature in the teaching of Life Skills in the Foundation Phase (Grade 1-3) of schooling when a tradition of feminist literature has revealed that dominant teaching discourses in early childhood often frame children as asexual and degendered (MacNaughton, 2000; Bhana, 2003)? The highly charged gendered environment in the early childhood classroom is often overlooked because of dominant framings of children as sexually innocent, resulting in the invisibility of gendered relations of power and inequalities (Keddie, 2003). The discourse of sexual innocence has resulted in minimum attention to the Foundation Phase in relation to sexuality education (Bhana, 2007). Disrupting this tradition, a Grade 2 female teacher, located in an impoverished primary school, responds by focusing on gender dynamics within her classroom context, recognising male power and violence, where boys are, according to Mrs Z, the main perpetrators of 'touching, hitting and taking from girls'. Research in the West indicates that gender violence in schools and classrooms remains pervasive: 'A discourse of entitlement prevails in terms of many boys' continued domination of classroom and playground space and resources; domination of teacher time and attention; and perpetration of sexual, misogynistic and homophobic harassment' (Keddie, 2009: 3).

In South Africa, like elsewhere in the world, there is wide acknowledgement that schools are not only sites where sexual violence and gender inequalities are produced, but also places for educational reflection and interrogation of such inequalities (Human Rights Watch, 2001). In the Foundation Phase of schooling there is limited knowledge and intervention around any of these issues with great silence regarding sexuality and sexuality education (Bhana, 2007).

By drawing on the perspective of one teacher in the Foundation Phase, this paper seeks to understand how gender power dynamics are possibly connected to and influence Life Skills. …

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