New textbooks break gender stereotypes

This year, a child studying in Class I will see in the textbook a picture of a family in which the mother is talking to the children and sitting with them while the father is helping around in the house. On another page, the child will see a mother who introduces herself as a pilot as well as a young girl who states that she lives with her mother, indicating that the mother is a single parent.

The new textbooks released by Chief Minister Edappadi K. Palaniswami on Friday, as part of the revised curriculum for the coming academic year, have been audited for gender sensitivity. Text books for Classes I, II, IX, and XI were released.

Several textbooks used by children in pre-primary and primary classes in the State still have patriarchal representations of women where they are represented as either cleaning or cooking and relegated to the kitchen.

“The teams which have worked on the textbooks for Class I have taken care to ensure that pictographic representations and roles assigned within a family are all balanced. We have also looked at how we can have an equal representation of female characters in lessons in English, Tamil and other languages as well as using gender neutral terms,” said T. Udhayachandran, Additional Secretary of the School Education Department.

Revised syllabus

These textbooks will be used by students in the coming academic year as part of the phased implementation of the revised syllabus drafted by the Curriculum Framework Committee. “Representatives from the Azim Premji Foundation were roped in to carry out a gender sensitivity audit of all the new textbooks as well,” Mr. Udhayachandran told The Hindu. As a step towards being inclusive of all genders, a Class XI textbook will have a lesson on the success story of Narthaki Nataraj, the transgender Bharathanatyam dancer.

Kirthi Jayakumar, founder of The Red Elephant Foundation, said that it was heartening to have the inclusion of many gender identites in the textbooks. “It is very important to have children learn gender equality from a very young age rather than to unlearn and relearn things as well as to understand that no role or conduct is a function of their gender,” she said.

“For older children, it is important to reassert the message through their books because they are open to a lot of influences and messages enforcing patriarchal viewpoints that may undo what they’ve learned — especially since media and films may be the mainstream influence to do this,” she added. Recently, the Education department faced flak after a Class VIII science textbook was found to have a misleading advisory on the prevention of Child Sexual Abuse.

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