08.03.2017 - Education Sector

In Indonesia, learning about gender equality from an early age

© UNESCO Jakarta

The children giggle as they line up in their costumes. Among them, a girl is dressed up as a chef, and a boy is looking like a sailor. Two others are dressed up as army generals and one girl is wearing sunglasses. At the PAUD KM 0 ‘Mekar Asih’ early childhood education centre in Jakarta, Indonesia, children are taught to dream big and told that they can be whatever they want to be.

The center began as a pilot project to promote gender equality in early childhood, and the model is gradually expanding to tens of thousands of early childhood centers in more than 300 districts and cities across 34 provinces in Indonesia. Initiated by the Directorate of Early Childhood Education Development of the Ministry of Education and Culture, it was awarded the UNESCO Prize for Girls’ and Women’s Education in 2016 for its innovative approach.

Ella Yulaelawati, who received the Prize on behalf of the Directorate, says a gender-responsive early childhood education centre uses teaching methods and learning materials that are free of stereotypes and gender bias in a safe environment that engages students equally. “Previously, textbooks and storybooks always portrayed women in subordinate position or domestic level,” she says. “For example, ‘Mother is cooking, Father is reading newspaper, Ani (daughter) is watering plants, and Ali (son) is bicycling.’ This created stereotypes about girls and women in domestic roles, as opposed to as diplomats or in other public sector jobs in the future.”

Tackling gender stereotypes

The center has introduced learning materials that are free from gender stereotypes, including a role-playing room where children dress up in outfits representing different professions. Teachers are supported to be effective change agents for gender equality, and parents are engaged in different ways including through father storytelling sessions. “As most of the teachers in playgroups and kindergartens are women, we encourage the presence of fathers in class, to be role models for students, especially boys,” said Ms Yulaelawati.

The Directorate also engages mothers and women’s associations. It works together with large women’s groups in provinces, districts and cities providing training, workshops and multimedia campaigns. The programme has already significantly increased girls’ attendance in five provinces around the country. The Ministry of Education and Culture has also established ‘Bunda PAUD,’ Mothers of Early Childhood Education, which engages government spouses, from First Lady Irina Jokowi, to the wives of governors, mayors and regents, in promoting access to quality and inclusive early childhood care and education.

“The goal of gender mainstreaming at an early age is to build children’s character so that they can understand gender equality,” says Kurniati Restuningsih, Head of the Sub-Directorate of Curriculum, “The Ministry of Education and Culture promotes gender mainstreaming at an early age as a way to improve equality and diversity, and eliminate gender discrimination which unfortunately still occurs in many communities.”

Highlighting girls’ access to education, Ms Yulaelawati said: “In some areas of Indonesia, girls still have limited access to school. Women’s empowerment needs to begin at early childhood. This includes a holistic approach to boost the participation and confidence of girls in schools.” 

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