The national core curriculum is a manifestation of how gender equality is seen in different times. In a way, the principles of the national core curriculum create a link between national definitions of education policy and the activities of schools.
“This means that the obligations and interpretations of gender equality recoded in the national core curricula serve as a guideline for schools. In the end, however, each school will make its independent decisions.”
The first sub-study of Myyry’s on-going PhD project focuses on how interpretations of gender equality have changed in the principles of the national core curriculum from 2004 and 2014.
“The role of schools in building equality hasn’t been questioned in the national core curricula before. But gender awareness, which has now been introduced to education policy, takes a more critical stance towards the operational culture of schools. This is new in Finland.”
There are also inconsistencies in the latest national core curriculum. On one hand, it still contains interpretations of equality that maintain gendered structures, while on the other hand it also talks about gender awareness, which is used to challenge these old structures.
“These ideas are in downright conflict with one another and, unfortunately, they aren’t explained or described to a sufficient extent.”
Getting under the skin
With the introduction of gender awareness, Myyry says that the text of the national core curriculum now, for the first time, looks at basic education as an institution that can not only promote gender equality, but also maintain unequal structures.
“Although the gender aware interpretation of gender equality has gained a more prominent role in the national core curriculum, I still assume that old habits die hard and strongly present in our schools. I’m certain that gender aware thinking will face resistance in the practices of the comprehensive school, because gender aware interpretations challenge established patterns of thought that are based on binary ideas of gender.”
Breaking these patterns isn’t easy. Moreover, making one's own practices visible and reflecting on them is usually experienced as hard.
“I know that I get under the skin when I address these issues and talk about them with teachers. But my point isn’t to offend anyone, although this is a topic that calls for critical examination. If we don’t see the problem, we can, for example, contribute to the discrimination of sexual minorities and promote gendered education paths without even realising that we are doing it.”