Tuesday, August 2, 2016

I Guess I'm a Maverick Now?

I spent the week of July 18 shirking my work. Why? Because Agastya was hosting an international teachers' summit, and I was asked to be a participant!

The event: Maverick Teachers Global Summit. The people: 30 or so incredible teachers from around the world, and several educational "thought leaders," with a special emphasis on inviting Indian educators. The goal: to develop curricula and teaching tools to help educate about and solve specially selected global challenges, inspired by the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.

7 teams of educators working for one week on specially chosen problems, trying to build empathy with global students, designing educational materials and prototyping/piloting them with children at Agastya's campus. In other words?

The Oliner's Natural Environment. (Or, at the very least, mine!)

I was lucky enough to be on the Gender Equality team. We were the largest team by far (10 people!), but we also had one of the largest problems that the summit had selected: how can we design a curriculum that promotes gender equality throughout society? I was happy to be on such a stellar global team: we had three people from the U.S. (including myself), two from Finland, one from Chile, and four from right here in India (four women and six men, if you're wondering). The great part about having such a big team was a diversity of opinion and thought, which was a strength that we tried to leverage to make a gender equality learning plan that would be relevant to children everywhere (that is, something that would be culturally adaptable).

Go Gender, Go Gender, Go Gender, Equality! (PC Prianka)
Our team, truly global (again, PC Prianka)!
Immediately, we were struck at the vast differences in experience of gender inequality. The defining characteristics of what it looks like in different countries is hugely variable, from the U.S, where the popular gender inequality discussions of the day are centered around Lean In, STEM education (2nd link), Hillary Clinton, and #yesallwomen, to India, where sexual violence is (Trigger Warning on this link) being described as an epidemic, but women seem to be doing better in STEM careers (happy link, click away).

So where, then, do we begin? What is the unifying factor in these experiences? I found my own answer to this from a local thirteen-year-old boy I spoke with, who said he had never spoken with anybody about gender inequality. Once we had established that he did understand what gender inequality was, I asked him what he thought the source was. And he pretty quickly responded: "The gents have all the power. The ladies have no power." He also gave me a more-local reason: "The parents respect their sons more than they respect their daughters."

Wow. So the kids get it. They know that they live in a world deeply affected by gender inequality, and they know why. So our team decided to create a lesson in which students can bring their own experiences and viewpoints to the table, speak critically about gender for what may well be the first time, and be introduced to the concept of gender-based violence.

Most of the materials that we made will be posted online soon (hopefully!), so I won't go into details here, but I think we laid some groundwork for what will hopefully be a culturally adaptable curriculum, for all ages, that is as relevant to students in Europe as those in South Asia, and everywhere in-between. I believe that we took a major step toward this goal when I heard the students we worked with commit to change for the better. We had them write a small "promise to act" on a piece of paper, something that they could do to try to make the world a little more equal in regards to gender. I leave you with what one student wrote.
"We should treat all the children as our brothers and sisters.
We should have a good attitude to one another.
We should not do wrong things to one another.
We should never degrade another person."
The conference was fun, the team was great, the curriculum we designed was interesting. But I hope that the change we affect is better.

The above quote as originally written, in Kannada. (seriously, the last one, PC Prianka!)

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