The Department of School and Mass Education in the state of Odisha on Monday announced its partnership with Breakthrough and the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab (J-PAL) South Asia with the goal of incorporating a gender equity curriculum into the syllabus for students across government schools in the state.
According to a statement, “The curriculum, designed by the NGO Breakthrough, uses interactive classroom discussions to encourage adolescent boys and girls to reflect on culturally embedded gender norms, roles, and discriminatory practices to transform their gender attitudes, aspirations, and behaviours”.
By August 2022, the curriculum will be incorporated into the Social Studies curriculum for adolescents in more than 18,000 middle and 5,000 secondary schools in Odisha, serving students in grades 6 through 10.
Samir Ranjan Dash, Minister, School and Mass Education, said: “Gender equality is very important. We are taking it very seriously.”
Bishnupada Sethi, Principal Secretary, School and Mass Education Department, Government of Odisha, said, “The inclusion of gender dimension in the school curriculum is a very notable step for Odisha. Despite the gains and progress India has made in gender equality, there are issues that continue to remain unaddressed even today. The representation of women, for example, is not significant and interventions such as this programme can bring about positive changes in the way we look at gender issues. And schools are the best places to start these conversations.”
Shifting Gender Attitudes
J-PAL South Asia originally assessed the curriculum in 314 government schools in Haryana, where it was discovered to change both boys’ and girls’ attitudes and behaviours about gender and encourage pupils to act in more gender-equitable ways.
Since then, the curriculum has been adopted by a number of Indian states, including Punjab, where it now reaches 600,000 kids every year in public schools there.
“In Odisha, Breakthrough will work with the Department of School and Mass Education to contextualize and integrate the curriculum into the syllabus, train teachers and key departmental personnel, and conduct gender sensitization workshops with principals across 23,000 state-run schools. The program will also leverage the Digital Infrastructure for School Education (DIKSHA), the Government of India’s open-access education technology platform, to train teachers, receive feedback from them, and engage parents in the sensitization process as well,” the statement added.
J-PAL South Asia will carry out impartial monitoring operations to make sure the programme is meeting its goals and to gather information for a long-lasting, high-quality government implementation of the curriculum.
Sohini Bhattacharya, CEO, Breakthrough, said that the organization was honoured to partner with the government to bring about systemic and lasting change in gender behaviors.
“Breakthrough, over the last 22 years has been working towards making violence and discrimination against women and girls unacceptable. We know that gender perceptions get formed at a young age and therefore, we need to ensure that children, especially those between the ages of 10-15 have access to the right information related to gender equality, legal rights, and healthy gender behaviors. The Gender Equity program aims to achieve this and has played a significant role in promoting gender-equitable behavior among school children,” said Bhattacharya.
Achieving SDGs 4 and 5
The state’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 4 and 5—quality education and gender equality—will be greatly advanced by the execution of the Gender Equity Programme.
The program’s anticipated results include boys and girls adopting gender-equitable attitudes and behaviours, adolescents engaging in gender-equitable behaviour, teachers working to create a gender-equitable school, parents valuing their daughters’ education and investing in them, girls having options for their education and participation in the workforce, retention of girls in school for a longer period of time resulting in a lower rate of girls dropping out, and an increase in the age of marriage.
The Government of Odisha and J-PAL South Asia have a long-standing cooperation, and as of 2019, J-PAL South Asia has been working with state agencies to support rigorous, policy-relevant research and the expansion of successful initiatives.
The Global Innovation Fund, J-PAL South Asia, and the recently established Alliance for Scaling Policy Impact through Research and Evidence (ASPIRE), which aims to hasten the implementation of anti-poverty policies grounded in scientific evidence and data, all support the programme.