A blue cup for her and a pink cup for him — does that sound weird? Not for Swedish children. Gender pedagogy at pre-school level puts everyone on an equal footing.
Pink, green, yellow or blue? Any color will do when no attention is paid to gender. Photo: AC Ridderstolpe/Image Bank Sweden
Gender pedagogy is increasingly common in Swedish pre-schools. The aim is for children to have the same opportunities in life, regardless of whether they are male or female. How? By working against gender stereotypes and assigned roles. In 1998, Swedish pre-schools got their first curriculum. One of the goals is to work for equality between the sexes by using a pedagogy that allows each child to develop into a unique individual. The basic idea is to free children from the expectations and demands society has traditionally put on girls and boys.
Early start, early results
Pre-schools in Sweden are open to children between 12 months and five years old, and gender pedagogy starts from day one. Child psychologist Karin Graff says: “Children are extremely receptive and they learn how to act from adults. If you wait with gender pedagogy until they start school, boys and girls will already be assigned different roles.”
To begin with, teachers must change their way of treating children. Graff emphasizes that most adults are unaware of the fact that they treat boys and girls differently. This has also been confirmed by studies.
An official government report from 2006, Equal preschool, examined 34 equality projects. A common pattern was that teachers subconsciously paid boys more attention and allowed them to take up more space. They also tended to speak to girls in a conversational way, while giving boys orders.
Teachers at one of the pre-schools mentioned in the report, Trödje, filmed themselves while working and it surprised everyone. When boys ran across a flowerbed, they were told firmly not to do so. When girls did the same thing, they were given an explanation as to why the poor flowers shouldn’t be stepped on.
At playtime anyone can do anything in pre-schools where gender pedagogy is applied. Photo: Helena Nimbratt/Image Bank Sweden
To break this pattern, some pre-schools separated boys and girls into different groups and let them practice skills they didn’t normally use. For the most part, girls grew in confidence and took up more space. The boys improved their language skills and the ability to understand the needs of other people.
Turning theory into practice
Trödje pre-school started working with gender pedagogy in 1996. Pre-school teacher Ingeborg Bergvall says: “We keep the children under observation to see which abilities they need to develop and then we work with that. One example is that we keep boys and girls separated during lunch, since girls from an early age know that they are expected to serve others. We want to teach them to think more about their own needs. We have also removed gender-specific toys, for instance dolls and cars.”
One of the key goals of gender pedagogy is to broaden children’s view of what boys and girls can do, and make them question gender roles.
Jonas Rangstad, a child minder at Nicolaigården pre-school, says: “In society there is a big difference between toys for boys and girls, but we always introduce all kinds of activities and toys to all children.
“I think that if I would have been raised with gender pedagogy, I would have fewer subconscious prejudices about men and women.”
In an interview with Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet two of the first children schooled in gender pedagogy at Trödje said they were more open-minded today as teenagers. Elin Gerdin described herself as independent and Niklas Knutsson said he didn’t judge people who broke gender patterns. Although Trödje children say they are just like anyone else, their teachers over the years have noted a difference. The boys were said to be unusually calm, with well-developed language skills and social competence, while the girls were more secure and could make themselves heard.
Gender pedagogy has been shown to make girls more self-confident and boys more attentive. Photo: Susanna Blåvarg/Image Bank Sweden
In 2004, gender pedagogy was applied by only 7 percent of pre-schools, according to a study by the Swedish National Agency for Education. Today, that number is much higher. Gender perspective is also compulsory now in teacher training.
According to Equal Preschool, gender pedagogy at pre-school level is not used outside the Nordic region. One reason could be that the upbringing of children in many countries is viewed as a family matter.
Knutsson says: “It would actually make me angry if gender pedagogy isn’t taken for granted by the time I have children.”
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
The author alone is responsible for the opinions expressed in this article.
The article was originally published in 2008.
If you liked this article, you might also enjoy...
More reading related to the subject
This article is also available in
Sara Hasbar is a freelance writer. She has contributed articles to Ordfront Magasin, Sweden’s biggest monthly cultural magazine. She has a BA in history of ideas and thinks that gender issues are interesting to investigate.
Published by the Swedish Institute on www.sweden.se. All content is protected by Swedish copyright law. The text may be reproduced, transmitted, displayed, published or broadcast in any media for non-commercial use with reference to www.sweden.se. However, no photographs or illustrations may be used. For more information on general copyright and permission click here. If you have any questions please contact webmaster.