With the rise of social media, several trends have been surfacing lately. Videos, hilarious, eccentric, and adorable or any type, going viral is one such trend. While many hold unfavorable opinion for these videos, the fact is that at times these videos do highlight certain issues like street harassment, children being subjected to corporal punishment in madrasas or children being preached hatred against a certain religious or ethnic community. Much has already been written and said about the poor quality of education being imparted and we are aware of it. So when videos of children removing name of Dr. Abdus Salam, or demanding death sentence for Asia Bibi go viral, and appear on my Twitter timeline, I am not bewildered. After all isn’t this what we have taught our younger generation? Similarly, I was least surprised when one day a 12 year old boy in my class told his female class fellows that their place would be in the kitchen when they grow up.
Was the child to be blamed? No. It is a proven fact that children are very perceptive and learn more from observation. What the boy had said was simply based on what he had seen at his home. The girl did not respond. How could she? Hasn’t she seen the same at home? Has she not read the same in school books that are wrought with misogynistic and stereotypical narrative? Whom was she to relate to? Are there any female heroes in our school books whom little girls can idealize? Are females depicted in strong positive roles, as engineers, in science, in technology, in sports so that little girls and boys can observe that besides kitchen women are capable of doing much more?
Nelson Mandela and Malala Yousafzai have rightly said that education can bring about change. However, an education system that reinforces patriarchy and awards a secondary status to women, does bring change, but a negative one. Unfortunately, rather than educating children about equality, patriarchal norms are ingrained into their tender minds at a very young age. First they learn it from home, then these norms are reinforced through school syllabus. An even more disturbing factor is the discriminatory attitude of teachers towards female students which often works as the last nail in the coffin. Most teachers, who come from the same system, leave no stone unturned to remind girls that “boys do better in mathematics and science because they are born intelligent.” I remember my own teacher in F.Sc told us once that “Chemistry is not a subject for women. Women can’t understand it.” Until I had to remind him of Marie Curie.
The discrimination faced by girls in science subjects open up another argument that whether boys do better in science and mathematics or girls. The dominant belief being that boys outperform girls in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects because they are born that way and girls are naturally born with an inability to perform well in these subjects. However, University College London’s Center for Educational Neuroscience suggests that indeed there are differences between girls and boys in their skills in STEM, but they are very minor and they thrive not because of any biological differences but due to societal expectations. As most of the times, parents and teachers have low expectations from girls in science subjects, consequently girls also have deluded views about their own academic competency. What is concerning is that the impact of this societal pressure and expectations start at an early age and has a strong impact on children, especially girls as it shakes their confidence. Resultantly, they participate less in class and extra-curricular activities, and show a lack of interest in the fields of science. This imbalance then translates itself in when girls and boys enter the labor market, where more boys are able to occupy technical jobs as compared to girls, inflicting a huge economic damage upon the country.
Therefore, it is imperative to understand that school textbooks are more than just important pieces of information supported by facts and figures. They hold transformative powers as they shape up the attitudes of children and development of cognitive abilities. Moreover, they play a vital role in in-doctrinating a set of beliefs and values in children that would tailor their personality as an adult. Most importantly, education is imparted to children in various subjects to equip them with necessary skills so that they can contribute positively in the development of the society and also conform to the demands of the rapidly progressing world. However, all these objectives are undermined if the course books, the tools for bringing upon change, themselves are biased towards girls and women who constitute almost half the population of the country. Girls are often considered a liability; if promoted and encouraged at a young age they can certainly become an asset for the country, all that is to be done is to provide them equal opportunities in education and open to them new avenues for economic participation.
Unfortunately, Pakistan is the second worst country when it comes to education attainment an economic and political participation of women. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, Pakistan ranks 143rd out of 144 countries. The top positions were acquired by the Scan dinavian countries. According to United Nations, many developed countries can raise their GDP by an enormous $6 trillion if they encourage economic participation of women as much as Sweden does. Hence, it is the need of the hour to introduce a gender-sensitive curriculum and introduce textbook reforms. Many countries including Cambodia, Uganda and Vietnam are trying to introduce textbook reforms that have an evenly balanced number of male and female illustrations, performing the same job. Misogyny at the upper level can only be dealt when its root cause is identified and remedied.