Constructing Gender Equality Education Through Curriculum
PhD student Yujia Zhai reflects on Chinese gender equality education from the perspective of curriculum and instruction.
The following is a guest article written by Yujia Zhai, PhD student at Zhejiang University and Special Research Student at the University of Tokyo. Zhai enrolled in a course at the University of Tokyo’s Graduate School of Education called “Introduction to International and Cross-Cultural Education,” which was co-taught by SPICE Director Dr. Gary Mukai and former CASEER Director Dr. Hideto Fukudome. SPICE will feature several student reflections on the course in 2023.
Last fall, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science (JSPS) Visiting Fellow Gary Mukai, Professor Hideto Fukudome, and several distinguished guest speakers introduced a range of important topics and research hotspots in the field of international and cross-cultural education. This learning journey provided me with a great deal of inspiration, and the discussion with the speakers left a lasting impression on me.
During one of the classes, we discussed the gender gap in STEM education as well as gender inequality in employment, which prompted me to consider the underlying reasons behind these gender inequality phenomena. Even though there are undoubtedly socio-cultural factors at play, I would like to re-examine the issue from the perspective of curriculum based on my research expertise.
As the main carrier of school education and the primary tool for disseminating human social culture, state-mandated curriculum essentially reflects the values and interests of the dominant class in society and assists to maintain the existing social hierarchy. Obviously, studying gender inequality in the curriculum, particularly fathoming the role of the curriculum in the reproduction of gender culture and its operating mechanism, will be of great significance to the reconstruction of school curriculum culture and the richer realization of gender equality education.
After careful inspection of the reality of Chinese education, I have noticed that gender inequality exists in several areas including curriculum content selection, the teaching process, and evaluation methods. Besides their higher representation in Chinese school textbooks, males are more often depicted as knowledgeable and highly capable people who are engaged in creative and indispensable jobs, whereas females are portrayed as ignorant and ill-informed, holding low-status, auxiliary roles, and frequently appear in domestic contexts. This gender discourse—imperceptibly suggested by the content of the textbooks—is continuously instilled in students’ minds, potentially shaping their thoughts and behaviors in the future.
In addition, different expectations held by teachers depending on gender will result in divergent interaction and evaluation methods adopted in common classroom settings. Male students are more frequently called on to answer questions in classrooms and assigned tasks that require more physical strength and intelligence, whereas female students are assigned simple and tedious tasks that only require attention and patience. What’s more, it might seem quite inexplicable that teachers may not hesitate too much to give criticism or punishment to male students, which possibly could be regarded as concern, love, or motivation for female students. In essence, these actions will ultimately lead to the separation of male and female students in the process of learning, inherently causing serious consequences for the students’ future intellectual development, academic achievements, and career choices.
To address the issues outlined above, we must strive to eliminate the influence of traditional gender ideology on the curriculum via regarding gender equality as the primary principle and basis for the selection of curriculum knowledge. Curriculum experts, local education administrators, gender research experts, women’s federation staffs, female teachers, representative matriarchs, and female students should all be involved in the development of curriculum, ensuring that both men and women have equal rights to behave and speak. Only by promoting a culture of gender equality and advocating the concept of gender equality through curriculum reform can we create a gender-equal school environment, achieve true educational equity, and advance the harmonious development of society.