The Swedish Education Act provides that gender equality must be considered in all Swedish schools and preschools. A few years ago, the city of Växjö intensified its efforts to ensure that this be done.
The project in Växjö involves 2 400 staff and is based on aims concerning gender equality adopted by the Swedish Parliament: Women and men shall have the same power to shape society and their own lives.
‘The steering group and the headmasters were asked to read Eva-Karin Wedin’s book “Jämställdhetsarbete i förskola and skola”, which concerns gender equality work in pre-school and school. They discussed and could identify with the process descriptions. Jessica Karlsson, who works with gender mainstreaming as a consultant in various organisations and businesses, lectured and all 80 headmasters in the municipality listened,’ said Mia Granqvist, who works for the City of Växjö and is in charge of the city’s gender equality project.
‘The headmasters have received funding to support the teachers, but the teachers have been able to decide how this is best done.’
A steering group comprising two representatives from the city management, the chief financial officer and the gender equality consultant was formed.
‘Our model focuses first on the central administration, then on the headmasters and finally on the teachers. Everybody has to feel that they are in line with each other. Nobody is allowed to fall behind. The headmasters have received funding to support the teachers, but the teachers have been able to decide how this is best done,’ she continues.
Headmasters and the ‘Special Team’
A lesson learned is that no long-term results can be achieved without an engaged headmaster. The headmaster has to take charge of the work.
‘One problem has been to make all headmasters keep the same pace. We have met with headmasters and teachers twice a year, where each school district has presented to the department management: How is the gender mainstreaming progressing? What does the rest of the process look like?’
Granqvist emphasises the importance of the city officials remaining visible, as it is of great symbolic value and lends legitimacy to the teachers.
Kristina Tannerfalk, teacher and local coordinator, says:
‘I and 37 other teachers have received training and continuous support, and have also been asked to remind the headmaster and our colleagues. We are inventors, promoters, assessors and critics. How do we get the headmaster excited? What can we do to fire up our colleagues?’
First the Teachers, then the Children
‘Gender equality is something we create together,’ says Tannerfalk. ‘Almost three out of four pre-school children think that lorries ought to be driven by men. Where are the drummer girls and dancing boys?’
‘Teachers have to have the knowledge and ability to think and act gender equally before they start working with the children and teenagers. A total of 150 gender equality packs with literature and a special card game have been sent out to teachers’ staff rooms, and the city did a fair in the city concert hall,’ says Tannerfalk.
‘There is still some resistance, but today every single teacher in Växjö knows that we are working with gender equality.’
Some pupils have produced gender equality films targeting younger school children, aiming to encourage discussion. During one week, the films will be shown in all schools in the municipality.
Today, the staff can handle this work as they have been trained for the task.
‘Last year, we focused on the parents with a PowerPoint presentation at parent meetings. There is still some resistance, but today every single teacher in Växjö knows that we are working with gender equality. The teachers know that the Education Act is clear on this point and that this is not something they can choose or not choose to do.’
Dare to Assess
Granquist emphasises the importance of daring to assess the results of the work. The research company APel/FoU has been able to identify both problems and success factors.
‘Gender equality should be included in the headmaster’s quality reports as well as in the staff and parent surveys.’
‘It’s an advantage if someone who is neutral and objective can assess the work with key indicators for gendered statistics. Gender equality should be included in the headmaster’s quality reports as well as in the staff and parent surveys.’
‘And we have already seen results! More equal proportions of boys and girls visiting community youth centres. More school girls with special needs are receiving extra support than in the past. Staff are showing new attitudes – now they are saying there’s a need for gender equality work,’ she says.
Model also for Diversity
The municipality of Växjö is growing at a rate of 1 000 people per year, of whom 60-70 per cent are from other cultures/countries. The city’s current diversity plan stretches to 2014. Hopefully, Växjö’s gender equality model will inspire the new diversity plan.
‘Gender-equal environments imply improved potential and better results,’ says Mia Granqvist. ‘Today we have worked on this for three and a half years, but would have liked a project period of 5-6 years. One great way to go would be to have the “special team” teachers continue their work but with a wider focus.’
Växjö’s Success Factors
- Legitimise gender equality work: Get the top politicians and school management involved.
- Give the staff appropriate literature to read.
- The obligation to report results is important. It is particularly important that headmasters request results.
- Use an external consultant as a critical eye.
- Ensure sufficient funding, including for substitute teachers when regular teachers have daytime conferences.
- Use the 1-16 years perspective for the children – follow the children all the way.
- Realise that the biggest problem is time.
- Count on both bad and good times.
- Create questions rather than answers.