By Mindy Kay Bricker
Wednesday, June 15, 2005
A Czech initiative to study schoolbooks for gender bias wrapped up late last year. Activists see the government effort as a step in the right direction. Seventh in a series on women and education.
PRAGUE, Czech Republic (WOMENSENEWS)--When Petr Havlik, head chair of the Gender Studies Department at Charles University in Prague, started looking at third-grade math schoolbooks he came up with a text book case of discouraging role modeling for girls.
One set of math problems, for instance, was accompanied by eight illustrations. In each picture a girl was shown either not knowing the answer or giving the wrong answer. The boy, in every case, corrected her.
"The general expectation in the country is that girls do not know math," he said. "People don't notice because they take it to be the way it is."
Last November, the country's Education Ministry completed a $2,000 study of gender treatments in text books for primary school students, who in the Czech system are all those between 5 and 15.
The ministry found that many of the books had insufficiencies when it came to gender equality, Michaela Lagronova, the ministry's spokesperson, told Women's eNews in an e-mail.
"More often the textbooks present boys as explorers and leaders and on the contrary, girls are presented rather as "family care-takers" or those who have a less important life role," Lagronova wrote.
Although these problems were not considered egregious enough for the government to pull the books out of schools, the government expects to redress them in new editions.
The old texts may also be phased out as part of the country's rolling review process, which looks at every text six years after its introduction.
In 2002 the country, which formally joined the European Union in May 2004, announced a plan to educate teachers about avoiding gender stereotypes that might "predetermine men and women to perform particular occupations."
Jana Valdrova, a gender linguist and German teacher at the Pedagogical Faculty in Ceske Budejovice, co-authored a methodical handbook on the evaluation of gender correctness in schoolbooks for teachers and publishers to use in analyzing their text books.
"We explain why the gender stereotypes can limit equal chances of men and women, and we advise how to distinguish stereotypes and avoid incorrect teaching books," she said.
Czech women are 53 percent of those who are unemployed, according to government statistics. Among the employee group with the highest salaries--legislators and senior managers--women in 2001 earned 55 percent of the salary of a man performing comparable work.
Since the fall of communism in 1989 and the Czech-Slovak split in 1993, the country has been updating its text books for political and geographical purposes. Gender, however, has only been addressed more recently and with considerable public reluctance.
When the Education Ministry announced in 2002 its intention to use a $2,000 grant to pursue an analysis of gender stereotypes in textbooks, the news drew widespread derision. Newspapers lampooned it in political cartoons and comments such as "this is what the Ministry has money for?" were posted on the Web site of the Gender Studies Institute, a Prague-based advocacy center for women's rights.
Havlik said that while democracy might be expected to be more positive for women than communism in the Czech Republic, it has been the contrary. "While some people are more free, there are those who are freer, those being men," he said.
Valdrova, the gender linguist, said that Czech German language text books "constantly repeat the 'daily regime' theme."
"It is accompanied by images of a woman who wakes up early, makes breakfast for everyone, takes the children to nursery school, goes to work, then goes shopping, cooks dinner, cares for the children and in the evening falls asleep in an armchair in front of the television, which is showing a soccer match that her husband selected and is enjoying thoroughly," Valdrova said. "The picture is supposed to be humorous. But depicting a woman as a mother and housekeeper without a partner, as a submissive wife--she couldn't even choose the TV show--is undignified."
This situation, said Valdrova, is a far cry from what's going on in Germany, where federal and state programs require schools to look at gender issues in general as well as specific problems, such as low female participation in science.
"In neighboring Germany, just one incorrect illustration is enough for a teaching aid to be pulled from the schools and that's the way it should be," Valdrova said. "Otherwise, half the population is subject to being treated in an undignified manner." A few years ago, in the German state of Baden-Wurttemberg, a "More Girls in Science Courses" project was launched that raised teachers' awareness of girls in science and that was designed to increase the representation of girls and women in curricula and textbooks.
In the Czech Republic, the kinks remain to be worked out for the ministry's new project, said Valdrova. She said that while gender courses and seminars have been offered to teachers, they are not part of their systematic continuing education.
In a phone interview, the ministry's Lagronova said the gender topic will be included in more projects in the future.
"We are aware of the importance of this problem to both pedagogic reality and international research," she said.
Mindy Kay Bricker is a freelancer living in Prague.