Higher education has made real progress in gender inclusion and equity… but there’s still a long way to go.
Here, Mai Skovgaard, from the SPHEIR TESCEA partnership, shares some practical and effective steps that university teaching staff in Tanzania and Uganda are taking to make their classes more gender responsive.
As demonstrated by a recent report, poor pedagogical practices in higher education reflect and reinforce the gender inequalities found in wider society. This can lead to a hidden curriculum, in which male students dominate classroom time and space. By contrast, pedagogical practices that are inclusive, interactive and that balance teacher and student input facilitate women’s participation.
Part of the UK-aid funded SPHEIR programme, the Transforming Employability for Social Change in East Africa (TESCEA) partnership is working to help students in Tanzania and Uganda be better equipped for the roles they might play in employment and wider society after they graduate.
TESCEA works by helping university staff to align curricula with employer needs, rethink pedagogies to encourage critical thinking and problem-solving skills, and build stronger links between universities and employers. All of this is done with gender responsiveness in mind. In this post, university staff share how they have put TESCEA's gender-responsive pedagogy training into practice.
Teaching and learning materials: Gender-sensitive references
Since participating in TESCEA’s course redesign workshops, many educators said they have paid more attention to who authored the materials they use in class, and have tried to find a gender balance in the examples used. However, this is not always easy. “Making a gender sensitive list of references has become an uphill task,” said Simon Esibo of Uganda Martyrs University. “Linked to this, some questions are emerging: is gender a factor in the thinking development of students? If so, what are the consequences of exposing students to gender-blind thinking development?”
Docus Alowo of Gulu University, Uganda agreed: “Most of the very good up-to-date reference books for the courses I teach are authored by males, so I get torn between ensuring quality while considering gender. What I have been doing is to use good up-to-date books but bring in more live examples from females in that particular field to balance the boat and ask students to find the gender gap in a particular concept, discussing possible contributing factors and how we (me and the students) can bridge that gap in learning and even in the possible working environment.”
Tupokigwe Isagah of Mzumbe University in Tanzania takes a similar approach: “I tried to ensure equal gender representation for speakers. This was difficult as most of the videos on YouTube on IT are presented by men. But I tried to mix. My strategy was as follows: I searched on google who are the successful women in IT worldwide. Most of these women had more motivational talks than teaching content. This is why I used to listen to their talks and pick interesting talks or content in the talk that will make my learners think and analyse what they discuss in relation to our context.”
Related to the choice of class materials, some participants noted the need for variety in use of language, making sure that they didn’t only use “he” or only use “she”.
Classroom management and set up: Where people sit and how they interact
Gender dynamics starts with how students are seated and how classes are managed. Eva Mirembe of Uganda Martyrs University said: “I have paid attention to the way I group my students. We have more males than females in the BSc IT course [but] I have made sure that in each group there is at least one female. I have avoided females sitting alone and away from their male counterparts and I have also been keen on equal participation of both genders in class. The last two semesters, all my students are now equally active and practical.”
“Changing sitting positions meant distorting the hidden agenda for the choices of the seats,” said Christine Oryema of Gulu University, Uganda. “However, having few females in the class made it a little easy for me. I formed groups and made the females leaders, not deputies/vice. I made sure the passive females and males took the front seats where they could easily be involved. I personally changed the place where I normally stood or sat while lecturing and chose to stand by the side or back to give space for students’ activity.”
Veronica Munuve of Uganda Martyrs University takes a similar approach: “In grouping students, I designed responsibilities and assigned each student a role: The Convener is the person who calls meetings for discussion outside the class. The Chair is the person who chairs the discussions and is supposed to ensure that everyone is given a chance to contribute. The Secretary takes notes of the discussions. The students were also happy because I tactfully assigned roles and rotated them. I try to see that there is gender representation.”
Docus Alowo initially encountered resistance to changing the classroom set up but “students have now gotten used that they will not sit in position for two hours or so in my class because I use blended learning activities like think-ink-pair-share, pyramid discussion. They have come to love it and actually one commented ‘madam, you give us a lot of work but at least we don’t sleep because it is very interactive and we understand right from class.”
Classroom interaction: Who participates in class
Beyond seating, gender dynamics can be influenced by how the class is facilitated. Felichesmi Lyakurwa of Mzumbe University, Tanzania said: “As I ask questions, in most cases you will find only male students respond and are ready to share what they think about that concept. So I usually engage female students by naming them….In this case, the entire class becomes involved in my class and enjoys learning.”
Edward Mwamkula of Mzumbe University noted that such approaches do not just benefit women but ensure more equity in participation for all of the quieter students. “My class had some learners [in particular females] who couldn’t easily interact with another gender. I made efforts to make them interact in discussion and leading of the discussions. The strategy showed improvement; the introspective learners become active and can interact with both genders. Pedagogically, the class contributions became gender-inclusive; like giving examples, but also when referring to the status of gender in the jobs and other responsibilities. Learners pay attention to contributors irrespective of gender. The most interesting is the growth of confidence when contributing. Hopefully this can help learners in not only the learning environment but in their job and back to families.”
It is very encouraging to see that our efforts to work with faculty to think through gender as it relates to their courses is starting to show results in their teaching and learning practice. It is also very encouraging to hear how the lecturers are seeing this reflected in a change of behaviour among their students as well.
As Edwin Ngowi of University of Dodoma summed up: “I normally apply gender equity principles in the learning process by providing fair learning opportunities for both males and females. This kind of learning environment encourages both male and female learners to bring out their full learning potentials in all my subjects I facilitate. I am proud to have been trained within the TESCEA project in skills necessary for gender responsive teaching and learning.”
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TESCEA is part of the SPHEIR programme. The Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform (SPHEIR) programme is funded by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) and is managed on behalf of FCDO by a consortium led by the British Council that includes PwC and Universities UK International.