The first-ever gender audit of NCERT textbooks reveals that though they are largely gender inclusive and attempt to highlight gender concerns, “there are elements of stereotypes in some textbooks”.
The Gender Analysis of primary school NCERT textbooks -18 of them – shows “men mainly in a variety of professions and women as homemakers, teachers, nurses and doctors”.
Following the December 16 Delhi gangrape, the Prime Minister’s Office had asked the Human Resource Development ministry to emphasise on moral science in schools and include chapters on value education in textbooks so that gender sensitivity and respect for women are inculcated in students at a young age. The Justice Verma Committee also recommended that gender equality be integrated in the curriculum at all levels in school education and gender modules developed for percolation of issues of equality and equity.
The audit is seen as a step in that direction.
NCERT officials said while an NCERT text undergoes several rounds of vetting, the Council believes in introspection and continuous content improvement, hence the decision to conduct gender evaluation of textbooks.
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It notes how a Class III Environmental Studies textbook has women in “stereotypical role of fetching water’. Similarly another lesson – Work We Do- has stereotypes reflected in the section on household work. In Hindi textbooks, gender evaluation report notes stereotypical adjectives often used. So in a poem ‘Pagdi’, a woman is referred to in negative terms, in another poem ‘Patang’, only boys fly kites while a girl child watches. In a lesson on work, a woman is shown in her typical role, cooking. There is similar gender bias in other lessons as well.
English textbooks play into gender stereotyping at places. Analysts pointed out subtle gender stereotypes like a boy holding a book while a girl is engaged in conversation. Occupational representation also indicates gender stereotypes.
The report notes “women are shown as teachers, cooks, doctors and nurses reflecting an extension of household work”. Men are “depicted in multiple professions, as pilots, artists, astronauts, magicians, rulers, postman, vegetable seller, newspaper seller, cobbler, librarian, drivers, dramatists, musicians, athletes, scholars, wrestlers, grocers, police, sportspersons and woodcutters”.
In fact, overall depiction of women is mainly in ‘caring roles’ or relational category, daughter, sister, wife and so on. Women are depicted “in a limited manner… as professional athletes”. The report suggests certain terms like policeman/milkman must be changed to policeperson and milkperson to make them gender sensitive. Similarly, ownership of assets should be jointly reflected, like a ‘man owning a canteen’ can be stated as ‘man/woman owning a canteen’.
The gender analysis report, however, says most textbook content is ‘gender inclusive’ incorporating stories of women role models and questioning customary practices like child marriage. Textbooks have attempted to show boys/men sharing household chores, child rearing and caring practices and expressing emotions.
A special effort is made in mathematics textbooks to not only make the subject more enjoyable but also “to remove fear of mathematics among students, particularly girls”. Mathematics textbooks show women inheriting equally from ancestral wealth and receiving a share.
The gender analysis anchored by Department of Women’s Studies, National Council for Technical Education & Research (NCERT) has been conducted by NCERT faculty from Departments of Elementary Education, Languages, Education in Science & Mathematics, Central Institute of Education Technology.