Discussions surrounding gender, inclusion and overcoming biases are now becoming an integral part of schools in the city. While earlier students had value education classes or moral science classes, several schools are now choosing to engage experts to interact with students and teachers to create a gender inclusive environment.
“While there was a constant call for the need to educate boys and men in response to several incidents happening across the country, we decided to start at the school-level. Everything is contained within the patriarchal binary construct and there is undue pressure if they don’t conform,” said Saundarya Rajesh, managing trustee, AVTAR Human Capital, which has introduced the Mitr initiative for boys from classes IX to XII.
Mitr seeks to educate and empower them towards becoming inclusive and empathetic towards their female counterparts. Their paedegogy includes educating boys about the physiological changes that come with adolescence, a history of women’s progress, how to be aware of and tackle stereotyping and unconscious biases, gender inclusion in the workplace and even aspects of the POSH Act.
Catching them young
Dr. Saundarya said while they started with four to five schools the previous year, over a dozen schools had evinced interest in their programme for the current academic year. “A movement like this has to take shape when the students are young,” she added.
While some experts and organisations engage with schools with independent, one-off sessions with students, some schools tie-up with organisations to have regular classroom interactions through the term.
“Through dialogue among diverse students, we have witnessed a deepened sense of mutual respect and empathy within and beyond classrooms. Schools we have worked with have seen a decline in the incidence of bullying and discrimination,” said Gulika Reddy, founder and director, Schools of Equality, which runs activity-based programmes to shift attitudes that perpetuate identity-based discrimination.
The year-long curriculum encourage students to examine their attitudes, question power and privilege related to identity, and foster inclusion.
The buck does not stop with the students alone. The Red Elephant Foundation has been speaking to teachers across schools and Kirthi Jayakumar, the founder, said: “With a pedagogy that explores the primary framework of intersectionality, we speak to parents and teachers about what they teach children directly and indirectly.”
And how does this impact the schools? Padmini Sankaran, head, Akshar Arbol International School, said awareness among teachers who work with adolescents was extremely important, as they were often sought out for guidance and direction.
“Teachers are in a position where they can make a difference and we need them to know how to reach out to students if they are being bullied or picked on by others,” she said.