A burgeoning source of evidence stemming from contemporary research points to the need for modifying the limited roles schools and educators see for themselves in terms of facilitating en-gendered classroom interactions. The influence of the family, community and culture outside the school space is often perceived to be dominant in moulding gender expectations in young children. Reflection on classroom practices is one way forward in challenging gender stereotypical behaviour. How teachers encourage children to question sexist attitudes and practices within the home and peer group and how they can become animators in promoting gender equality, are some issues that need to be addressed.
A two-day workshop titled Educating for Social Change held on 28-29 August 2016 at New Delhi brought together 72 educators from geographic regions in India that have experienced intense conflict as well as those from areas of “relative safety and security” to engage with issues of gender equity. The synergy between teacher educators and school teachers from India (particularly from Jammu & Kashmir) and from Peshawar (Pakistan), through the discussions helped in opening of minds on pedagogic practice and the transformative role that education needs to reflect. The focus was on a horizontal engagement with society in education as opposed to a vertical one in redefining social responsibility in education.
The screening of the film He Named Me Malala helped to highlight the challenge of providing equal educational opportunities to young girls especially in conflict areas in the face of forces of obscurantism and extremism. The discussion that followed foregrounded the role of education in countering violent extremism through the expansion of dialogue beyond the canvas of gender equity. It brought together a multiplicity of experiences for addressing diversity and non-violence within the school space.
The engaged deliberation went into the role of schools as “healing spaces” in their attempt to overcome the exclusionary barriers that students from marginalized backgrounds face. Were teachers viewing themselves as facilitating the process of healing and creating this space for children? Several participants felt that the workshop raised intellectual and emotional questions by linking theory and practice and by freshly interrogating teaching practices to include self-examination, reflection, open-mindedness and an honest space for vulnerability. Duties and obligations as citizens towards the communities, families and schools were re-visited to promote horizontal engagement with society and refocus on empathy as an important tool.
Creating a global citizen also involved the perspective to intervene in the everyday injustice and violence that we confront. Educational spaces must foreground this sensibility in their everyday practice. This was the major takeaway from the deliberations that acknowledged the many faultlines of class, caste, religion and gender that have now entered the heterogeneous classroom space in India. The dialogue yielded deep inner reflections on pedagogic practice in terms of questioning the inequalities of various kinds within the educational (school) space and generated hope in the creation of engendering social change, thereby strengthening democratic practice.