For many years, it was wrongly assumed that the biological condition of one’s genitals is what constitutes both one’s sex and one’s gender. Over the years, it has come to be more widely accepted that the presence of a certain kind of genitalia or its absence is not enough in and of itself to constitute the gendering of a person. As the change has been felt in how the world views gender over those years; similarly, the gender practices of public schools in the territories of Canada have undergone equally significant changes and in some cases even more significant changes. This paper intends to conduct a chronological evaluation of gender practices throughout the life of the Canadian public school system to the present system noting significant changes and how this change has been affected and its effects on the general public as well as responses of the public to the same. To evaluate the issues accurately, perhaps a definition of gender is appropriate for the topic selected thus far. Gender can be said to be the part or whole of a social set of activities and practices that define the individual with a specific group. It has long been appreciated in a dichotomous manner with male and female being seen as the parts of the gender coin but recent advancements in the field of sociology, psychology as well as social acceptance have led to the emergence of a significant third gender known as the transgender group. For purposes of this paper, the gender groups exist in three categories.
The public school system in Canada, with relation to girls, can be traced back to the humble beginnings in the 1850s with the first government-run schools slowly replacing the earlier more accepted form of teaching that employed home based governesses (Harrigan,1990). The changes brought about by this shift in education model for the girls represented for many a win for those who felt that women should be given equal opportunities in learning as men other than the traditional governess tasks of teaching propriety to high born women , with home skills being added to the equation to sweeten the proposition of marrying a girl to an educated or well-off man. This often included the tutoring of girls in the arts such as drawing, painting, singing, playing the organ, among others with the sole intention of making them a pleasing companion for the distinguished males of society. It had until then been seen to be of no use to train a woman in the ways of science for any other purpose other than improving her countenance in engaging with talk with educated men. It is therefore easy to understand why the opening of these schools, while not being a concession by the government for the study of girls and women in diverse fields such as medicine and engineering, for this came much later, may have been construed as a step towards education and practice of knowledge for all. Until then, inequality in education had been significant with every thought of practice of education as a means towards a profession other than teaching thought to be unusual if not strange and unacceptable. With the approval of public schools for girls though, the inclusion of women into higher learning was only but a few years away as evidenced by the graduation of the first female doctor in Canada in 1883 (Harrigan,1990). This represented a major coup even though the nearby United States had long ratified a directive allowing women to study and practice medicine long before then with a few women-run facilities existing in Canada itself before then. This was, of course, the rule rather than the exception and it was still frowned upon by most people. This period until the early 20th century represents a period of general struggle in terms of how the education system interacted with women , although through the use of such small wins, female education could be said to have been fully integrated into mainstream education by the 1940s (Harrigan,1990). The journey towards acceptance is littered with the sacrifice and sweat of a significant number of education crusaders who took it upon themselves to ensure the achievement of equal education for all.
Among the significant structural changes felt in education was the shift from the restrictive single sex schools towards mixed sex schools. This was a large concession in terms of the equality of educational entitlement of the two genders, by then the third component of gender identification had not been accepted. This change occurred in the 1880s as highlighted above with women being denied entry into schools of higher learning before then (Harrigan,1990). Prohibitive nature of this practice was based in part on a misguided notion that women and men were not equal and that women could not achieve similar levels of achievement as men in intellectual endeavors. While this was totally misguided, a significant number of women did not join these establishments to learn even with the introduction of coed classes as they were still largely unable to attend lectures due to prohibitive actions by either their male guardians or male figureheads in their respective families. This inequality towards access to learning opportunities was used by some men as a way of seizing and maintaining power over women by preventing their intellectual advancement and consequently keeping them out of leadership and economic opportunities on the grounds of a lack of qualification. With this change in access to learning opportunities, it became apparent that men and women have similar chances at the available opportunities although it was going to take a few more years until the prospect of female representation in a position of authority even became fathomable. The role of the woman started shifting from a predominantly support role to a significant contributor to the economy of the nation and this increased the availability of opportunities for women. By the 1900s, the number of girls approximated that of boy enrolled in schools representing a significant step towards a more inclusive education policy (Harrigan, 1990).
Even with the above changes in the access to learning opportunities in Canada, it is estimated that the percentage of practicing engineering who are female in 2016 stood at a mere 12.8% (EngineersCanada). This represents a small number, which probably points to a biased look at science, technology, and mathematics courses as women’s domains. This kind or retrogressive idea is what the pioneers of old who came up with a number of inventions were rising against in their quest to have women identified in all aspects of learning including science, technology and mathematics. The lack of a more standardized enrolment points to a problem in the adoption of science and mathematics based course by girls in the country. This presents a challenge towards the goal of inclusive management of educational practice with an emphasis on the opportunity for all. Above all, it sets a dangerous precedent for the young girls to see very few female engineers as it will instill a nature of a lack of interest in mathematics and the sciences as well as a general lack of creative application of knowledge which will be detrimental to the chances of there being wholesome growth as the perspectives of both genders in harmony work best for the good of the economic development spurred by innovations of the technological kind. Programs to change this have long been the domain of female professionals who feel they need to spur an interest in the STEM subjects aided by companies such as Intel and IBM. This will need to be taken up by the government to ensure that the gender balance is established in all fields for the better achievement of national economic goals as well as for the benefit of society through the growth of more active and socially perceptive female minds.
Although the milestone of nearly equal enrolment was achieved early on, it has been common to view the enrolment levels for girls fluctuate over the years with some children being kept out of school or dropping out of higher level opportunities such as the enrolment into institutions of higher learning. This, together with significantly fewer scholarship opportunities for girls and women have been among the inequality problems that have been the root of significantly less intellectual achievement for Canadian women in terms only of number as with regard to quality, they have already numerously shown themselves to be at par, even better in some fields, with their male counterparts. While working towards more inclusive scholarship awards is no longer a goal of many organizations, it was once a valuable part of the dynamic and although it has become less common for unfair distribution of scholarship awards to be based on gender, it has taken quite a bit of effort.
Over the years, gender considerations in public schools have taken different significance with the performance implication of having same-sex classes or mixed-sex classes being one of the considerations being evaluated in the discussions of education policy in Canada. A study on the effectiveness of single-sex schools vis a vis mixed-sex schools showed an almost double effectiveness rate for single-sex schools over their mixed-sex counterparts in languages and proficiencies traditionally related to each gender specifically Math and logic for boys and language and the arts for girls (Riordan, 1985). A consistently higher level of performance was noticed for students in single-sex schools than in mixed-sex schools. This was largely attributed to the absence of an adolescent subculture among the students of single-sex schools compared to those of mixed-sex schools. This argument assumes a distractive aspect of the adolescent subculture while some quarters believe that mixed-sex schooling is best based on its mirroring of society and that it produces more effective persons at interactions with others than single-sex schools (Riordan, 1985). This leaves the question, what is the best measure of the effectiveness of a school system? Is the academic performance of a certain school system the only basis of judging effectiveness or should other consideration such as the sociability of students after school be considered? I think the role that social interaction plays in the emotional development of the students is an important aspect of their cognitive development and I would suggest the improvement of the achievement of learning outcomes at mixed sex schools rather than making attempts to change the narrative towards the better effectiveness of single sex schools at the expense of the sociability of the students we produce for the future of the nation and for overall society.
A significant feature of gender practice in public school is the level of exposure that girls in public school are given with regards to athletic programs in public high schools. Over the years, there have been significant issues raised over the inequality levels experienced in the enrolment and execution of athletic activities by girls. Although the recent trends seem to be improving with more inclusivity of girls in terms of options made available to them, it has not always been the case. A study on the availability of options in the high school system for girls exposed that there have been little, restricted or modified choices made available for girls compared to boys in athletic programs (Meyer, 2010). This has led to the production of less qualified athletes in the athletes’ departments of major high schools, colleges and eventually the national teams of women in various capacities contributing to significantly lower results for the female teams. While this cannot be expressly blamed on the management of public high school athletic programs, it is certainly a contributing factor. While the use of more athletic programs will not specifically result in better results in that regard, the lack of a pipeline for the national team can be viewed to be a direct result of this inequity in resource distribution among girls.
Moving to current trends in the gender systems of public schools, a significant issue in the current scheme of things is the introduction of sexual introduction and gender identification regulations in public schools to reform the bullying and discriminating on the basis of these issues (Schneider & Dimito, 2008). This has received backing from the amendment of British Columbia Human Rights to include different sexual orientation and gender identities as part of their human rights. This adoption has led to the introduction of similar regulations in the schools of certain provinces such as Alberta and British Columbia (Alphonso, 2017). Although such a convention would be considered regular practice in modern days especially with regard to adult societies, a significant number of students ‘parents have raised an issue with these regulations earmarking it an issue of the morality of their children and claiming that authorities are out to sexualize their students at young ages with such declarations. A recent convention in Alberta suggested the children will now be able to choose which gender to identify with and can even choose the pronouns to be used to refer to them by teachers and peers. A lobby group has cited this as unnatural and they are challenging the declarations to ensure they have them repealed. As stated earlier, current gender identification is different from earlier notions with transgender students being more common and the lobbying of LGBT activists’ groups all over the globe leading to a feeling of more acceptance towards transgenderism than earlier years This is what may have fueled these debates over the prevalence of the different sexual orientation and gender identities among students. While the above development has been largely about the introduction of gender identity and sexual orientation issues, this is an issue that has been ongoing for a while and the main reason for this introduction now is the recent wave of bullying on the grounds of gender identity. The identification with transgenderism has been met with the trend of bullying and abuse either in person or in online platforms. This has become a significant gender issue in the current scheme of things as there are a growing number of students who identify with the new gender. The introduction of regulations to control this has been the result of increasing depression and self-hate among students due to the rampant cases of bullying and name-calling. This is an emerging issue in most developing countries and the liberal nature of the Canadian society has contributed to the earlier introduction of these rules than in other countries but it has most likely set a precedent that more and more provinces and other countries around the world are bound to follow.
A look at the transformation of the Canadian public school system from one that struggled to catch up with the rest of the world in times of incorporating women into higher education institutions to now being a trendsetter in the introduction of radical changes to school regulations for the benefit of society shows a significant level of growth towards a more liberal and more effective education system that is unafraid of making the difficult decisions to ensure the best results are realized for their schools and children. From the oppressive ages of the 1850s to the current framework, there seems to always be a gender issue at hand. Back then it was discrimination against women and now it is discrimination against the transgender community. The drawing of parallels between the two cases should ideally end there with the lessons learnt in bringing the women and girls at par with the men and boys in educational access situations hopefully having led us to become better at solving gender issues and a repeat of the long struggle towards inclusivity for transgender will not be quite as long as that of the women was.
Alphonso, C. (2017). Sexual-Orientation and Gender-Identity Battle Grips Schools. The Globe and Mail Online. Retrieved from https://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/sexual-orientation-and-gender-identity-battle-grips-bcschools/article36681034/
EngineersCanada. Women in Engineering. EngineersCanada website. Retrieved from https://engineerscanada.ca/diversity/women-in-engineering
Harrigan, P. J. (1990). The Schooling of Boys and Girls in Canada. Journal of Social History, 803-816.
Meyer, E. J. (2010). Gender and sexual diversity in schools (Vol. 10). Springer Science & Business Media.
Riordan, C. (1985). Public and Catholic schooling: The effects of gender context policy. American Journal of Education, 93(4), 518-540.
Schneider, M. S., & Dimito, A. (2008). Educators\’ beliefs about raising lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender issues in the schools: The experience in Ontario, Canada. Journal of LGBT Youth, 5(4), 49-71.
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