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Dismantling gender stereotypes in the classroom

To deconstruct gender stereotypes at school we have designed several workshops based on coeducation in classrooms, organised by a team of educational psychologists specialising in gender equality issues.

72% of the world's scientific researchers are men, according to UNESCO. Why is it that so few women choose to go into science? Why is it still the case that girls who choose an academic career in technology are in the minority? Psychologists believe that the phenomenon is related to gender roles and early assimilation of those expectations. At six years old, children are already able to pick up on stereotypes and social clichés, and at as young as 10, they may begin to exhibit the limiting beliefs associated with these spurious cultural, social or skill-related patterns.

To help promote equal opportunities and demolish the gender roles associated with careers in science and technology, we have designed a series of workshops called "Co-education in the classroom. Dismantling gender stereotypes in school". The workshops have already been delivered at three secondary schools in the Madrid area.

Through fun and practical activities organised by a team of educational psychologists specialising in gender equality, over 150 students and 30 teachers have already taken part in this initiative to help break down stereotypes in terms of attitudes, behaviours, environments and language.

Picture of the workshop "Dismantling gender stereotypes in school"

What is a stereotype, exactly, though? A 10-year-old at Ciudad de Columbia School in the area of Tres Cantos (Madrid), "it's something we are taught from a very young age, which might not be true".

“Stereotypes limit what we can be, and cause frustration. That is why initiatives such as these can help promote freedom of choice.”

Sergio Serrano, psychologist at Enfoque Psicólogos

What do we need in order to do a particular job?

To put the workshop into context and find out how familiar the students are with the topic, experts begin by showing a video, showing professionals in positions which are usually associated with a particular gender: specifically, astronauts, sergeants and firefighters.

All that is said about these people uses masculine terms, but there is a surprise in store: all of the professionals shown are revealed to be women. When the psychologists ask: “Why did you think they were all men?”, the majority of pupils have no doubt. Some children explain that from a very early age, they have tended to think that there are some jobs that are for boys and others that are for girls, while in a different part of the class, they talk directly about adults, and find that their associations tend to say that “the man is the boss and the woman is the secretary"

“It is crucial, from an early age, to work against role images which reinforce social and gender stereotypes, which curtail young people’s full development.”

Roberto Brea, Headteacher, Ciudad de Columbia School

Female role models in STEM

Newton. Einstein. Edison. Darwin. Kepler. There are male role models aplenty, but what about female role models? In this workshop, pupils learn about figures such as the biochemist Margarita Salas and the microbiologist Esther Lederberg, and discuss the role of these women in their professions. In many cases, their discoveries became known under the name of one of their male research colleagues, or were published directly under a male pseudonym.

In order to continue working on everything we have seen, once the theoretical part of the session is over, we engage in a teamwork activity, where pupils discover and laud the contribution of many female experts in history, in professions such as physics or maths, the world over.

Picture of the workshop "Dismantling gender stereotypes in school"
“We are starting to see a change. The children are more aware, and they can naturally see more jobs that are also held by women, but the stereotype and the prejudices remain present at a subconscious level.”

Antonia Mejía, psychotherapist at Enfoque Psicólogos

At the end of the session, the teachers and pupils separately discuss how stereotypes are inculcated from early children, and can even be seen in the different types of toys and colours aimed at boys and girls. "Family and friends always give us baby dolls as presents", said one of the young girls.

This project continues in the furrows already ploughed by initiatives such as ICT Girls and Orienta-T. The aim is to show how academic choices are one of the major consequences of gender stereotypes in today's world. Careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) are those most badly hit by the phenomenon. These types of studies have traditionally been done by men and, even today, account for the lowest numbers of female students at university.

We all have the obligation to educate in order to dismantle these stereotypes. One of the girls put it very well: "We have a very wide range of options open to us. We can be whatever we want".

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