On a mission to stamp out stereotypes in early education
According to the guide book for staff La poupée de Timothée et le camion de Lison (Timothy's doll and Lison's truck), boys tend to demand more attention from adults than girls, and to dominate in conversations.
The findings of a study made in Swiss day care centres are enough to give you chills: if your little girl goes to day nursery, it's very likely that she is called upon more often to put away the toys than her male playmates, given less praise when she does well and is often assigned a supportive role. Your little boy on the other hand, will have a more limited range of costumes to dress up in, will receive compliments that are especially focused on his strength – and will get more help.
"This is about real situations that we observed during studies carried out between 2012 and 2015", Véronique Ducret, social psychologist at the 2e Observatoire (Second Observatory); the Geneva-based Romandy Institute of Research and Training on Gender Relations explained. "We catalogued and analysed these observations in a guide book entitled La poupée de Timothée et le camion de Lison ('Timothy's doll and Lison's truck')." The goal of this colour publication, designed for day nursery professionals? To raise awareness on how children can become conditioned from a very young age through contact with adults whose behaviour reinforces stereotypes. In 2012, the 2e Observatoire had screened eleven day nurseries in Romandy, Switzerland, and already criticised the fact that girls were less often called by their first names than boys, for example. This first edition of the guide, which very quickly ran out of print, was widely distributed in day nurseries in the French-speaking part of western Switzerland. "Feedback from staff has been positive on the whole, and the findings were well received. We have already noted instances of positive change," Ducret added.
To provide the material for an improved, second edition of the guide, the institute analysed an additional four day nurseries; those of the University of Geneva. The conclusion: girls are now being called by their first names at least, but the problem of ensuring that girls and boys socialise and play together as equals remains. "In a given space, if we get out the pedal cars, the boys grab them straight away, and the girls are left to occupy what little space is left over. On the other hand, if the childcare assistants give the children neutral toys, all the children have fun together very easily. Coexistence can be learnt! But other gender stereotypes last longer and are harder to shake off, such as the tendency to judge little girls based on their appearance," Ducret specified.
On the strength of this success, the 2e Observatoire decided to continue its work by branching out into an attack on stereotypes that develop in the playground and at elementary school. Over a one-and-a-half-year period, the team went to observe what was happening at various establishments in the Swiss cantons of Geneva, Neuchâtel and Jura. "It was a natural step for us to start observing children in the next age group, after having studied those at kindergarten", Bulle Nanjoud, who is in charge of the project explained. "We realised that gender bias develops in a different way at elementary school, but that it's still very present. We noted, for example, that the majority of both the physical space and the sound environment is taken up by boys. Which is a shame, because it's a fact that is well known by researchers, and yet the situation hasn't changed." An updated version of the guide, based on these further observations will be published in September 2018, and will be distributed to teaching staff by the cantonal departments of education. Featuring the same look and same tone, this new version of the guide has the same mission as its predecessor: to kick gender stereotypes out of the education system.