Gender assumptions that challenge a quality education for girls in Uganda

A pupil sits inside a classroom ahead of the primary school final national examinations at a primary school in East Africa. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya - RC1294BA3D70

Uganda has made significant progress in promoting girls’ education in recent years. Policies improving access and enrollment have been reformed, primary enrollment rates have increased dramatically, and more girls than ever are completing school at all levels. Policies like the Gender in Education Policy and the National Strategy for Girls’ Education highlight the importance of gender mainstreaming—Integration of gender interventions, measures and experiences for improving gender equity in the curriculum and ensuring education equality at all levels. Gender-sensitive pedagogy—which seeks to ensure that all learners have equal opportunities to learn—has also been included in Uganda’s new national teacher policy, a significant step towards gender equality in education and beyond.

In this context where gender inequality persists, the implementation of gender-sensitive and gender-responsive pedagogy has been challenging. There are many stereotypes of how girls and boys are raised and treated, at home, school, and in the professional world. This likewise translates into how they are taught in the classroom, where teachers traditionally have lower expectations and biases against female students. This situation has led to low participation in school leadership, co-curricular clubs, class activities, and sometimes an even higher dropout rates among girls.

Consequently, the absence of gender-sensitive pedagogy has also led to a mismatch between what boys and girls study at school versus what is desired by the labor market. For example, there are more boys taking science subjects compared to girls. Students, in particular girls, are thus lacking much needed 21st century skills and their learning outcomes are below standard. As such, women are less likely to be employed compared to men, because culturally, women are still seen as less capable than men are.

  1. Gender is synonymous with girls. Some teachers have defined gender-sensitive pedagogy as using teaching methods that focus on only girls. However, it is important to include boys because fathers, brothers and husbands, play an equally critical role in the educational and professional success of girls.
  2. Girls’ issues are only a senior woman’s responsibility. The role of a senior woman—a female teacher who is responsible for mentoring all girls in a school—is imperative and its benefits cannot be undervalued. However, all teachers whether they are senior women or not have a role to play in gender sensitive pedagogy. Male teachers, too, can encourage girls to aim high and support them in setting and achieving goals.
  3. Gender-sensitive pedagogy is time consuming. Teachers think that gender-sensitive pedagogy is time-consuming and would rather spend time completing the syllabus. Teachers are typically rewarded for the amount of content covered and the number of students that pass exams. This is made worse by the media hype of student pass rates. On the contrary, gender-sensitive pedagogy encourages teachers to employ diverse techniques while teaching the same national curricular content and preparing students for their examinations. It doesn’t mean more teaching but different teaching.
  4. Teachers are the only ones who struggle with gender-sensitive pedagogy. Teachers have noted that students are resistant to this type of teaching and struggle with convincing their students to try something new and different. Sometimes students are unwilling to participate in the new methods introduced by the teacher. Teachers have to learn how to introduce the pedagogies and acclimate their students to the changes in the classroom, which can take a lot of patience.

These assumptions about gender and gender-sensitive pedagogy threaten the progress made in girls’ education in Uganda. As a 2018 Echidna Global Scholar, I will analyze data collected from teachers and students to explore ways to close the policy and implementation gap in gender-sensitive pedagogy. Educating girls can have tremendous ripple effects to the economy and society. As Harriet Martineau, often cited as the first female sociologist says, “Women, like men, must be educated with a view to action or their studies cannot be called education.”