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Learning the gender bias early: A critical examination of some primary school textbooks

by Anna P. Obura

Enough has been observed, documented and written on the limited access of women in the Third World to modem agricultural technology and to participation in the significant incomeearning spheres of agriculture. This goes some way toward explaining the relatively low rate of progress in national development. The acclaimed development process has largely passed women by in agriculture and has even caused the deterioration of overall living standards and working conditions of most women in most parts of the Third World.

The explanation of this phenomenon in Africa lies in understanding the recent history of the continent. Such was the impact of colonialism on African societies that it is customary to divide the history of the continent into three broad categories: pre-colonial times, colonial times, and the era of independence. Methods of food production changed significantly during these three periods, and, simultaneously, the status of women in farming underwent important transformation.

In traditional societies in Africa, the contributions of both men and women to agriculture were recognized and valued. During colonial times, however, the image of woman the homemaker, the child-bearer, "the domestic", crept into Africa along with the alien images from the West. These images reflected the specific historical perspectives of industrialized societies but had little relevance for Africa, where, under colonialism, the process of food production was being forcibly modified under the impact of new constraints: the restrictions on pastoralists' movement; forced labour on plantations; and entry into the cash economy through compulsory payment of taxes. The era of independence brought new opportunities (for example, the freedom to plant cash crops) and insights (the importance of subsistence farming), but the stereotyped image of man the farmer and woman his wife and helper -unremunerated and unvalidated-lingers on and is in danger of becoming more and more entrenched in post colonial societies. That this is so can be confirmed by a cursory reading of any primary school textbook in Kenya today.

Yet-and here lies the irony-of all the five continents it is in Africa that women contribute most to agricultural output. There is growing recognition in the world today of the significance of the fact that Africa's major food producers are women and that women are the least schooled social group in Africa. It is therefore important to examine the impact of education on females as a group.

Education is considered to be a powerful agent of development and the World Bank now has evidence that schooled farmers produce 10 per cent more than unschooled farmers. Primary education in particular appears to have an important pay-off rate. One question remains: is a 10 per cent increase in production enough? Enough in relation to what? In relation to the financial input into education? In relation to the as yet unsatisfactorily measured female energy input? "Enough" by whose standards?

African countries have spent scarce financial resources on reforming their school systems in order to make education more relevant. They generally spend more than 30 per cent of their national budgets on formal education and borrow heavily at high interest rates from external donors. These educational reforms come in response to continued calls from national and international leaders and institutions for more food, for better nutrition and health, for reduced population, for better living conditions, and for economic development through improved agricultural practices. The current Kenyan educational reform (referred to simply as the "8-4-4 system", to signify a primary eight-year, a secondary four-year, and a tertiary four-year education cycle) is a case in point. It is the purpose of this article to examine one of the factors involved in agricultural education and to determine the likely outcome of the course viewed from this perspective.

A costly exercise. Given the low rate of female enrolment in schools in Africa, the new recognition of women's vital role in the development process and the major recent finding that women are the critical producers of food in Africa, it is imperative to reexamine the participation of women in the schooling system and in the agricultural curriculum in particular, since formal schooling is such a costly exercise in Africa, since agricultural education is more costly than general academic education, and since women are most involved in life-supporting activities in the community.

First, it has been found that girls ''access to schooling is restricted. Second, once in school, girls repeat more often; their drop-out rate is higher and their achievement rates are lower than boys". We have evidence that even when they stay in school, girls select themselves out of science-based and practical courses leading to technical careers that are more highly paid and which enjoy more prestige in society. Since 1974 their numbers have even decreased in science-oriented faculties in the University of Nairobi, which demonstrates that national expansion of education per se does not automatically enhance the opportunities and skills of women.10 And by avoiding science-based and practical or technical courses, girls opt prematurely out of vocational and tertiary agricultural training.

Of the heavily subsidized technical secondary schools in Kenya one was established for girls with a femaleoriented curriculum (home science, secretarial, and dress-making options). While three other schools admitted girls, only one of these involved them in a standard curriculum for both sexes.[l1 Kenya has since terminated the costly technical school programme (estimated to have cost three times as much as academic secondary schools) and has now infused a technical/practical element, or a pre-vocational element, into all schools, primary and secondary, under the new 8-4-4 system.

Studies that examine the determinants of girls' lower rates of staying-in and of achievement in the education system have pointed to a number of variables that are thought to be significant. Among them is curriculum orientation. School curriculum, however, is a Western package that has had difficulty Africanizing itself even after approximately 25 years of independence. In the West agricultural studies are a traditionally male-dominated field. Second, agricultural studies include science and machine technology, both associated with modern agriculture, with large-scale agriculture, and with cash-crop production, three domains which have been male-dominated in Africa since colonial times.

A drive for relevancy. In describing the recent formal introduction of agriculture into Kenya's primary curriculum, two factors should be explained. First, the reform is an outcome of the increasing demand in the 1970s that education become more relevant to the nation. It was assumed at that time that the teaching of technical and practical subjects in school leads to in creased employment in the technical craft, agricultural, and self-employement sectors. Until recently, children in secondary schools were gender- selected in these areas of the curriculum home-economics courses for girls and technical courses for boys. Second, an argument now being put forward is that exposure to the pre-vocational subjects is good for everyone, boys and girls alike. Since 1985 boys must sew and study home craft alongside girls in primary school, and girls must thatch houses and do woodwork alongside boys. It is interesting to note that the wheel has turned full circle for as Kenyatta noted of Gikuyu traditional and pre-colonial education: "The girl's training in agriculture is the same as that of the boy.''

To return to the current 844 educational reform in Kenya, it is not clear yet whether the children will learn useful skills in these subject areas given the limited allocation of time to practical subjects (this is probably why we retain the term "pre-vocational subjects" with regard to them), but we are likely to see a transformation of social attitudes as a result of these activities. The formation of socially desirable attitudes is being regarded with more seriousness these days and it is interesting to note that the majority of the educational objectives for primary schools are stated in attitudinal terms, for example: "To grow toward maturity and self-fulfilment as useful and well adjusted members of society. To appreciate one's own and other people's cultural heritage, develop aesthetic values.... To develop desirable social standards and attitudes. To develop awareness and understanding of the immediate environment and foster positive attitudes towards other countries...." (Syllabuses for Kenya Primary Schools, Kenya Institute of Education 1984). They also include some skill-oriented goals: "...acquisition of literacy, numeracy and manipulative skills." It is therefore possible to argue that merely a change of attitude toward formerly gender-specific work activities will be an important and worthy outcome of the current education reform.

The declared objectives of the primary school science and agriculture course are: "1. That children acquire and preserve certain useful attitudes about themselves and their relationship with the environment. 2. That children acquire certain manual and thinking skills which are useful in solving practical problems. 3. That children acquire ways of seeking further knowledge and using this knowledge to solve the problems they meet in modern life."

As an exercise in formative evaluation of the ongoing reform it is important to examine whether the new curriculum stresses the necessary involvement of women in modern farming and whether it is likely to have a positive effect on the future agricultural activities of women. As a first step in this direction the textbooks currently in use in the agriculture course have been analyzed. Despite the theoretical exposure of teacher-trainees to varied resources and methodologies, once in the classroom teachers tend to fall back on the textbooks available in their school as their only teaching resource. The textbook comes to assume great importance in the curriculum. Books are image-forming. And the constant, daily use of one textbook throughout one whole school year is particularly compelling. Many adults have clear images of the textbooks they used in school twenty, thirty, forty, and fifty years ago.

In Kenya two main series of agricultural textbooks are in use: the Macmillan "Beginning Agriculture" series published between 1978 and 1983 and reprinted in 1984; and the Longman "Agriculture for Primary Schools" series of 1979-84. Both are designed for Standards IV-VIII and comprise three pupils' and three teachers' books each. Reference and revision books for the examination (Kenya Certificate of Primary Education: KCPE) year, the eighth year, are now appearing in the bookshops: for example, "Science and Agriculture for Standard 8" by Malkiat Singh 1985 and "Standard 8 Science and Agriculture" by N.M. Patel and S.K. Vasishta 1984. I am indebted to Odenyo's forthcoming preliminary analyses of these books for the following section.

A striking absence. The first book in the Longman series is indicative of authors' approach to writing science and social science textbooks. The first unit ("Agriculture in Early Times") opens with the expressions "people found food...people gathered...with simple tools people...". On the first page one picture shows men gathering fruit and digging up roots while the other picture bears the caption "Stone tool used by early man"; the four diagrams on the second page depict men making tools. Pupils are asked what people are doing. The textbook goes on to describe how people discovered metals and how people made tools from them; how people found land and how people grew their food plants. The three pictures on the third page of the book show four men clearing bush, three men building houses and three men tending cattle and carrying water pots. Women and children are totally absent from these three introductory pages to agricultural studies.

We are told that "many people live on small farms" and the notion is illustrated by the introduction of "Mr Majani who lives on a plot with his wife and five sons", implying that the plot belongs to Mr Majani alone, who will, as the text points out, divide his land between his sons at his death. "Many people are being given land," the text continues, but it is unlikely that pupils will read the notion of male female into the term "people" in this instance. Indeed the freeholder and the leaseholder are exemplified in the text by Mr Simba, the coffee farmer, and Mr Tumbo, the sugar farmer. It is explained that a man needs workers, money, and tools to develop his land. In Mr Simba's case his "wives and children" act as workers, whereas Mr Tumbo needs government loans for his two male workers, the hire of a lorry, etc. Men are thus both the owners of land and the decision-makers and planners, they have at their disposal the unpaid labour of their wives and children.

The text is silent on how such a situation comes about and remains silent as to the desirability of maintaining these conditions in the future. In view of the tacit acceptance in the text, the reader, especially the young, impressionable reader, will be led to acquiesce in such a social order, and this has major implications for the nature of women's future participation, or the lack of it, in the modern agricultural sector.

Margaret and Jane, in addition to capturing merely 15 per cent of the attention in the textbook, are younger and therefore of lower status than the six named adult men - who are farmers, owners of land, hirers of lorries, and active developers. In contrast, the images of adult women in the book are muted and sparse. Unnamed women are depicted as nurses, pregnant women (which is irrelevant to agriculture), as traditional poultry farmers, as selling their husband's produce in the market, and as workers for their husbands. One woman, still unnamed, is shown receiving money for her cotton harvest and others are portrayed in food processing, sticking labels on tins in a factory. But the most significant aspect is the conspicuous relative absence of women and girls from the agricultural text.

Masculinity emphasized. The more popular series, "Beginning Agriculture", is characterized by similar factors. Book 1 mainly describes animals and plants, but it introduces the farmer as masculine as early as the fourth page of the book by referring to his land and his crops, thus associating the notions of maleness and ownership. This is emphasized later in the unit "Visit to a Farm"' which multiplies the use of the masculine pronoun in connection with transport owned, the farmer's tools and machinery, insect control, etc.; associating farming with modern technology; associating, in turn, maleness with modern technology, and, by implication, indicating the non-participation of women in this enterprise. Finally, the extension officer also turns out to be male and to represent knowledge, science, and experience. The Teacher's Book I is a significant teaching resource: it emphasizes the masculinity of the teacher and the farmer. It has an extensive unit on early man: "he gathered his food...; man...thought about keeping animals; from the many animal products man uses..." and "man...had invented the wheel". No female characters appear anywhere in the pupils' book but the teachers' book notes that the extension officer can be "a man or a woman" and that a farmer may notice "his sons or daughters using improved practices on his or her own farm". But these are the only two references to females in the teachers' book.

Book 2 increases the number of male characters: the veterinary officer and doctor, the provincial director of veterinary services, the livestock officer, the agriculture teacher, and the -the "good farmer" being typified by Mr Kamau. Mr Kamau is confident, knowledgeable, hard-working, and successful, but he is patronizing, supercilious, and mocking toward his lazy, ignorant, incompetent wife.

We are told that "the good farmer...puts his environment to the best possible use... always tries to protect his environment". It is becoming an invidious comparison between Mr and Mrs Kamau at this point. Later Mr Mvivu, the lazy farmer, enters the scene to add to the maleness of the ensuing agricultural discussion. Mrs Kamau, the embarassingly incompetent amateur, disappears from the text.

The pictures in the textbook show mainly males. For example, there is a series of six pictures:

a) 10 boys (1 girl) digging
b) a small picture of 6 girls planting
c) a boy recording observations carefully
d) 2 boys transplanting
e) Juma's meticulous record book
f) 7 boys working at the cabbage patch

A total of 21 boys and seven girls and one out of six pictures featuring females. The remaining pictures show other males, and plants, and animals. There are three pictures of Mary and her husband, depicting Mary the disgruntled, reluctant but finally happy pupil compost-maker, with her accompanying confident, mocking, and angry husband. This is not the image of the typical Rwandan woman so meticulously described ten years ago who worked 15 hours to a man's seven and who was ready and eager for change in agricultural activities.4 It is no nearer to the real Kenyan women either.

The most widely used agriculture textbook of all is Book 3 of the 'Beginning Agriculture" series. The first unit introduces "man and his environment" and continues: "Man uses all these things (water, crops, animals, etc.)...to stay alive", describing "man's surrounding or natural home"; Tom and Harry illustrated on the first page typify "man" in the rural area and in the city "Both men had a good education.... Does Tom's education help him in his environment? Does Harry's?". On the second page of the textbook Mr Kamau (the good farmer) and Mr Mvivu (the lazy farmer) are introduced and stay with us all through the book. By the end of the fourth page there are a total of 129 genderspecific words of which 128 (99.2 per cent) are male. Mr Mvivu remarks that his friend will "send (his) wife out into the bush to find some firewood". Thus the remarkable and distinctive image between male participation and female non-participation in agriculture is established.

The next mention of a female character is in connection with assistance to the husband, as an afterthought on his part, and after calling attention to the assistance of the son, a boy still in primary school: young Juma, here, helped me, and my wife, Anna, helped too. This image is strengthened by a second, more explicit comment: "There are usually many things to be done on a farm. The farmer by himself cannot always manage to do all the things necessary. Sometimes the farmer's wife, and his sons and daughters (when they are not at school) can help. This is called family labour." Juma often joins in the men's discussions on agricultural theory and practice in the book but the wives of Kamau and Mvivu are never present, as if to underscore the future importance of Juma and the unimportance of the women. Mrs Mvivu does have a vegetable shamba (field) which her husband succeeds in flooding. There is one significant picture of women near an irrigation scheme carrying pots of water, presumably for domestic purposes, and carrying babies on their backs. No relevance can be found between the presence of women in the picture and agriculture.

An erroneous picture. The farmer in the textbook is always male, and so are the extension officer, the agricultural loan/bank official, the big buyer of agricultural produce. The meaning is enhanced by big half-page illustrations of these men. It is not difficult to interpret that the other farming services and organizations listed must all be run by men. In reality this is not the case in Kenya today and therefore even in terms of reflecting reality the textbook gives an erroneous picture of the present state of women's occupations and role in agriculture; there are women large-scale farmers; there are women agricultural extension officers, financiers, agricultural researchers, institution managers; and above all there are women subsistence farmers. In failing to portray women in real roles, the textbook deprives schoolgirls of role models, falsifies the picture of the real world for teachers and pupils alike, and conditions boys to expect men in these roles, which is not conducive to facilitating the social change envisaged by the national education objectives cited above. Worse still, the message becomes a constant and forceful instruction for girls to keep out of agriculture. The role for women preferred by this textbook is as unremunerated, unvalidated helper to the husband, at a lower status than her young son; and her characteristics are unobtrusiveness and mindlessness, implying lack of education, intelligence, and initiative. Males have a monopoly on these attributes in the textbook. The authors make an interesting statement at the end of the book: "What you have learned in this primary course should be the beginning of making you a good farmer in the future."

The trouble is that, throughout the book, "farmer" has consistently meant man. And when the authors ask: "You have now to ask yourself a very important question. That is, what have you learned?" the answer, for girls might be something like this: 1) I have learned that women do not farm; 2) I have learned that girls should not farm; 3)I have learned enough agricultural theory to pass my examination. Even the authors seem to sense a problem at the end for they introduce four schoolchildren into their revision questions: Peter, Anna, Juma, and Mary, the only girls in the whole book, and they are depicted on a school task of collecting pests, whereas Juma has been involved all along in family farming and, in Book 2, as an exemplary agricultural student.

The science and agriculture examination that the first cohort of 8-4-4 children sat in November 1985 included 12 mentions of boys or men in agriculture and one of a girl, Chebi, who studied the stars. There is no explicit instruction in the documents available to the teacher to encourage the deliberate inclusion of girls in the learning of agriculture. Yet an urgent compensatory/ affirmative programme is evidently needed to redress a situation which excludes girls from this learning area. The exclusion is not deliberate; in fact the situation is all the more serious because it is unrecognized and the behaviour of all of us concerned is unconscious. This indicates the need for a sensitization campaign among educators and parents to precede mounting curriculum changes within the educational system.

Educational reform must be backed up at every stage by careful implementation strategies. It is no good spending scarce financial resources on agricultural education in the formal sector which systematically and overtly excludes half of the school population from learning, thus wasting 50 per cent of the costly inputs. It is no good perpetuating the alien image of woman "the domestic" through the educative system when by all accounts Africa needs every intelligent and labouring person available for development, and when women appear to be more development-oriented than men. It negates the idea of sending girls to school if we then instruct them through curriculum mechanisms to opt out of development-oriented activities.

Fortunately there is hope that the present educational package for children can be turned around and be made to respond to the real and declared needs of national development, although such a course of action will be long and difficult to achieve. It will then make better sense for us to spend as much as we do on education and it will then make sense for us to send our daughters to school, for this has every" thing to do with the prioritization of development projects on national and international scales and it has everything to do with the allocation of scarce resources in our day-to-day lives in Africa. There is, finally, some hope that the proposed course of action may lead to discovering some of the determinants of development-effective education.