Research continuously shows that investing in education is one of the most effective, high-yielding development investments a country can make. In 2000, nations around the world committed to Millennium Development Goal 2 for the achievement of universal primary education, but many challenges still remain – especially for girls.
Historically, women’s educational experiences have been different than those of men. Rather than having unlimited freedom of opportunities, girls have been guided towards specific, limited roles in society such as secretarial work, nursing or teaching. While a lot has changed over the years, the recent Women’s March demonstrated that protecting the rights and equality of women and girls is an ongoing effort.
We believe that teachers can and should play a role in empowering female leaders of tomorrow. Do you agree? Here’s how to ensure you’re providing girls with all the opportunities they deserve:
Embrace girls’ diverse interests and talents
A 2013 NPR poll unveiled that many parents feel schools don’t offer enough support for students who aren’t interested in attending college. There’s a gap in options that are presented to students: is it really college or McDonald’s? This problem affects girls more acutely.
Women remain a tiny minority in well-paying trades such as plumbing, welding, and masonry. “They face more hurdles, both real and perceived.” – says Matt Simpson, a masonry teacher.One student recalls how her mother and friends tried to talk her out of pursuing a masonry class, even though it could be the first step towards a lucrative future as a certified mason in the Navy. They said it was a boys’ class.
“It doesn’t matter because any woman can do anything … a man can do”
– she replied.
Encourage STEM participation
Educational experiences in early childhood have a significant effect on the science and math courses that girls choose later, which in turn influence their career path and future economic status.
A 2002 Tel Aviv University study unveils how big of an influence a teacher can be. In the study, 6th graders were given two exams – one graded by teachers outside of the school, with students’ identities hidden. Another, by teachers who knew their names. When graded anonymously, girls outscored the boys in math. Surprisingly, boys performed better when graded by teachers who could see their names! This disparity didn’t occur in other subjects such as languages. The conclusion? Teachers displayed an unconscious bias, overestimating the boys’ abilities and undervaluing the girls.
Understandably, receiving a poor grade can influence girls’ attitudes towards STEM subjects. Additionally, Claire Cain Miller, a future of work reporter for the New York Times, believes that “elementary school seems to be a critical juncture”.
This unconscious bias doesn’t make one a bad teacher – it’s a result of narratives and gender roles many were subjected to when growing up. However, teachers who want to empower all the students and provide equal opportunities to girls and boys should definitely keep the risk of bias in mind and pay extra attention when grading.
Collaborate with parents
According to a prominent non-profit, Girls Leadership, “parents and teachers are the most powerful teachers for girls all the way through high school.”
Make sure parents know how significant their influence is. Families of teenagers might think they don’t have as much authority as they used to, but that’s far from the truth. A survey of girls aged 13 to 18 found that 63 percent of girls who have a role model say it’s their mom!
As mothers are the ultimate role models, they should be cautious of what kind of examples they set for daughters. For instance, mothers criticizing their appearance might cast a shadow on daughters’ confidence and body image.
Your role as a teacher is to communicate to parents how they can uplift and inspire young women as role models. You can support parents by sharing valuable, educational content – this educational video series by Girls Leadership is a great start. Creating a Family-daughter book club is another great idea by this inspiring nonprofit. ClassTag is perfect for this kind of communication – you can share messages with Announcements or set up your book club using Activities.
Introduce female role models
Any teacher who’ve spent a few years in the classroom realizes that students’ family environment may vary dramatically. School is a great place to introduce girls to accomplished female role models – especially for those children who cannot count on support at home.
Successful women in business, politics, science and creative industries are great examples which can ignite girls’ passion for high achievement and leadership. But there’s more – role models can also be found among teachers, school leaders and locally. Yes, you are one, too!
Champion life skills
Strong academic record can open many doors, but to maximize chances for success, it must be accompanied by confidence and essential life skills.
Girls’ leadership can be encouraged by championing involvement in student councils and presenting opportunities to lead within the school settings. Help girls get used to publicly expressing opinions and taking ownership of issues that impact them. This will make them more inclined to adopt a leadership position beyond the school gates, too.
Help girls navigate media & the internet
Rachel Simmons, a writer covering social media and girls’ development warns: “there’s a disproportionate effect of social media sites on girls.” She recalls a shocking survey which asked 12 and 13-year-old girls if something that happened online made them feel nervous about going to school the next day. Over a quarter responded with a “yes”.
Teachers can play an important role in helping young girls navigate this online media landscape. How to protect yourself from cyberbullying? How to stay safe online? Girls should also know the truth about advertising, how media images are created and what is their purpose.
A program director for Girls’ Leadership Worldwide believes in community service as an antidote. Girls are less likely to compare themselves to what’s in the media when they’re out busy making a difference and positively impacting the world around them.
Anea Bogue, the founder of REALGirl Empowerment Programs, says the average girl’s self-esteem peaks at about age 9, and continues to decrease from that point. Teachers can play a huge role in reversing this worrying trend.
Do you want to contribute to the success of girls in your classroom and community? Get started with these resources:
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