Role of Skill Education in Challenging Gender Inequalities

By Rohini, LAHI:

In 2006, Lend Hand India (LAHI) designed the Plan 100 project and began implementing Multi Skill Foundation Course as a pilot program in government aided schools of rural Maharashtra. Skill education was included in the curriculum of government schools as optional subject, part of Socially Useful Productive Work (SUPW).  Today, the schools that have completed over 5 years of introduction of Skill education believe that it is an important component of growth for students.        

Most schools have reported that skill education has brought about positive changes in students’ attitudes towards learning.  The institutions affiliated to LAHI and implementing skill education have reported significant changes in the approach of students and their parents towards education. It has been observed that after learning theory as well as practical, girls are showing interest in technical areas such as repair of electric devices, fabrication, in addition to cooking. They are repairing electronic equipments as much as the boys in their communities. On the other hand, boys have started to participate in health and hygiene practicals, focused on cooking, baking and other hygiene elements, at par with girls.  Therefore, based on evidences from field, it can be confidently said that skill education, as part of mainstream academics, is a practical tool to bring about gender awareness, gender sensitivity among the boys and girls right from adolescent age. In this context we are referring to gender equity in capabilities, aspirations, and providing the right atmosphere for aptitude development, right from school level. 

In the following part of this blog, we would like to share some field experiences, testimonials, and a verbatim account (translated in English) of our conversations with program stakeholders, with reference to the Gender Equity context while implementing Multi Skill Foundation Course in Satara district of Maharashtra.

Testimonials from School Principals

During our field interventions, we spoke to school principals and noted their opinion. “I must say that we have been observing significant changes in the behavior of students, especially boys. When we started this course, boys were hesitant to cut vegetables, bake, and wash utensils in front of girls. But we have designed the course such that all students have to perform these practicals,” Principal Mane said from Tandulwadi “When they understand it’s a part of their curriculum, they gradually start accepting  the nuances of the curriculum component, without bothering about the gender roles that they have in their minds. Gender roles disappear with focus on learning. Now, they are comfortable with all practicals. Gradually, they have started to understand that even boys can work in the kitchen. Students start looking at their role in the kitchen with a neutral and renewed perspective.” 

Principal Bainge from Deogaon , “l went to a student’s house as a part of a home visit. I was inquiring with the parents about her progress. The mother said that her daughter wants to be an electrician. She repairs electric devices at home and the neighbors call her if they need help when something is wrong with their machines and need repairing. This incident shows that slowly, students are opening up to learn new skills irrespective of their gender and even the parents and community are accepting the fact that even a girl can capable of doing such roles.”

During the baseline survey which was carried out Satara in 2014, we witnessed that female students were more inclined towards health, hygiene, and agriculture while boys were inclined towards welding and electrical subjects. Gender stereotyped mindsets was obvious. However, in 2020, when we conducted in-depth interviews with 350 students to know their perspectives about which subjects they preferred and if they believed certain subjects were specifically for girls or boys, there was a significant change in attitude. 99% of the students showed a change.

Testimonials from the learners ‘perspective

Jayesh, a grade 10 grade student says, “If you are good at performing a particular skill, then you should choose that subject or career. Whether you are a girl or a boy does not matter. In Multi Skill Foundation Course, l learnt an important thing: that you should choose your career depending upon where you will get an opportunity to work in your area of interest. I love cooking, but my mother never allowed me to work in the kitchen. But with MSFC being a part of my routine curriculum at school, I now have an opportunity to learn baking, pickling, and many such simple yet interesting methods of food processing. l I think I will pursue a  course in hotel management  after completing my secondary school certificate examination. ”

Radhika, a 9th grader says, “l like to perform all practicals including planting, cooking, baking and welding.  I feel it is a great opportunity for me to learn different skills in one class. Having done the Multi Skill Course, I firmly believe that even girls can start  working in a motor repair shop  in order to earn a livelihood, there’s nothing impossible for girls to do as long as they have a passion towards the work and possess the technical and allied skills and abilities to perform the tasks associated. Boys also can make tea and serve their parents. l believe that my friends and I can do welding better than boys sometimes. Sadly, l haven’t seen many girls working in fabrication for a source of income. But girls will soon start as we learn and pursue such courses in school.” 

Pratik, a grade 10 student says, “l absolutely believe that both girls and boys are equal. Both should get an equal opportunity in choosing their own career. I, as a boy, have always been given special treatment compared to my sister and I felt privileged. But now, as l see my classmates studying the Multi Skill Course with me, I find that Girls are equally capable of performing all practicals. I have experienced the empowerment that Multi Skill Course brings and hence would like my younger sister to pursue the same course as she moves up the school grades.”

Jaya, a 9th grade student says, “l love cooking and learning agricultural techniques in the skill education class. I think this is the first time l have started working with boys. We never used to talk to boys in 7th grade, but now we perform practicals together and hence, we talk and work with boys. There is such an equitable feel in studying like this.”

 Winds of Change!

The above testimonials exemplify that skill education provides ample possibility of ingraining gender equity as a way of thought and practice through personalized experience and as a part of formal education system at right age, i.e. adolescence.  

Schools have always been trying to bridge the gap between boys and girls. Some schools have gone further and changed traditional seating arrangements of separating boys and girls into mixed-group seating. This helps with better communication and sets the basic tone of removing gender biases. We have observes that bigger changes have been catalyzed because of these simple practices. Skill education with combination of subjects like health, hygiene, electricals, agriculture, energy and environment gives students an opportunity to explore different areas which they may not otherwise learn at their age. 

With training in school, children get exposure to different practical and real life skills. They develop their own opinions and realize that both girls and boys are capable of doing all types of roles and work. As adolescents, it is important to provide them the right environment, tools and methods to develop their understanding of gender. Our experience says that, Multi Skill Course can help them change their thinking regarding gender stereotypes and lead towards achieving gender equity, stating at most appropriate stage in life. 

The writer, Rohini is associated with Lend A Hand India and witnessed its impact on students life. She deeply believes in the power of skill education at higher secondary school 


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