Perceptions of gender in early years

Wingrave, M. (2018) Perceptions of gender in early years. Gender and Education, 30(5), pp. 587-606. (doi: 10.1080/09540253.2016.1258457)

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This article presents an exploration of a group of Early Years Practitioners’ (EYPs) perceptions of gender that may provide some insight into the growing divide between boys’ and girls’ educational performance [Burusic, J., T. Babarovic, and M. Seric. 2012. “Differences in Elementary School Achievement between Girls and Boys: Does the Teacher’s Gender Play a Role?” European Journal of Psychology of Education 27 (4): 523–538]. I argue that the current media and educational interest in the gendered brain [Sax, L. 2005. Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know About the Emerging Science of Sex Differences. New York: Broadway Books] and the influences that surround the child [Eckert, P., and G. S. McConnell. 2013. Language and Gender. 2nd ed. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press], can result in children acquiring social expectations and attitudes to learning that are different for both sexes. The frequent dimorphic treatment of boys and girls is often based on assumed biological differences [Baron-Cohen, S., S. Lutchmaya, and R. Knickmeyer. 2004. Prenatal Testosterone in Mind: Amniotic Fluids Studies. Massachusetts Institute of Technology] that suggest that the sexes learn differently. This can result in the approaches to the care and education of children being established on their sex categories rather than their individual needs. My focus here is to explore practitioners’ expectations and understanding of children’s behaviour and learning in the nursery environment. The study is premised on the belief that practitioners’ perceptions of gender could, as argued by [Eliot, L. 2009. Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps – And what we can do About It. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company], result in self-fulfilling prophecies being (re)produced and (re)created. The deployment of stereotypical assumptions and practices could, I suggest, limit children’s opportunities. The data used here are drawn from my doctoral study of the nature of gender as was understood by eight EYPs who took part in five discussion group sessions. An interpretative paradigm was adopted, where the EYPs’ discussed their experiences and understanding of gender from their practice. Following [Holloway, I., and S. Wheeler. 2013. Qualitative Research in Nursing and Healthcare. 3rd ed. West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Limited], the study explored experiences and perceptions in order to illuminate meaning and understanding. The findings indicated that there is a belief amongst the group of practitioners with whom I worked that gender is either innate or learned and that EYPs play no role in its development. The tentative conclusions suggest that changes to the education and training of EYPs are required in order to raise awareness of gender issues in nurseries. I suggest that there is a need to place gender back on the education and training agenda for EYP in order to support changes to practice that could, in turn, provide children with more equitable teaching and learning experiences.

Item Type:Articles
Glasgow Author(s) Enlighten ID:Wingrave, Dr Mary
Authors: Wingrave, M.
College/School:College of Social Sciences > School of Education > Professional Learning and Leadership
Journal Name:Gender and Education
Publisher:Taylor & Francis
ISSN (Online):1360-0516
Published Online:22 November 2016
Copyright Holders:Copyright © 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor and Francis Group
First Published:First published in Gender and Education 30(5): 587-606
Publisher Policy:Reproduced in accordance with the publisher copyright policy

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