33 SES 05 A, Gender and Teaching During the COVID-19 Pandemic
The proposed paper explores how the intersecting relationship of teaching and gender is being shaped in the context of online/ distance/ blended schooling in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic in Kazakhstan by foregrounding teachers’ voices and experiences.
Kazakhstan closed all schools on 12th March 2020 (https://liter.kz/s-16-marta-dlya-shkolnikov-kazahstana-ob/), one week earlier than the scheduled spring vacation. Since 6th April 2020, 3.3 million school children in Kazakhstan were receiving lessons online or via distance mode, ending the school year in June 2020 with school doors still being closed (https://liter.kz/tugzhanov-2/). Since January 2021, most school children are receiving instruction via a blended mode.
With no preparation, teachers were tasked with continuing the learning process of their students via distance learning. In Kazakhstan, teachers have been advised to use free programmes such as MS Classrooms, Google Classrooms, "Coursera” and ZOOM and encouraged to enact pre-recorded video classes, online classes and other online means of communication (https://www.gov.kz/memleket/entities/edu/press/news/details/informaciya-dlya-shkolnikov-studentov-pedagogov-i-roditeley-v-period-pandemii?lang=kk). This assumes that the teacher has both technology and internet access at home and the skills to support their students using a whole different medium to meet the learning goals and objectives of the subject matter they teach. Helmer et al. (2018), in a study of teachers’ technology use in Northern Australia, found even those teachers who grew up with computers had only basic levels of technology such as word-processing skills or sending email and text messages. Female teachers with children have to simultaneously educate their own children and teach the nation’s children, whilst also fulfilling their other domestic responsibilities. Hargreaves (2020) highlights the importance of protecting teachers' well-being when they are working tirelessly as their heroic efforts are not publicly very visible and they might receive criticism for what they are actually doing.
While teaching has been made complex by the pandemic and the impact of this complexity on teachers is expected to be gendered, the links of gender to teaching are historical and can be traced to the Enlightenment thought in Western societies (Dillabough 1999). Because of (neo)colonialism and (neo)imperialism the conception and practices of ‘modern’ schooling in the non-Western world still strongly bear the hallmark of Western modernity (Durrani and Nawani 2020; Rizvi 2014). Specifically, Kazakhstan, the contextual focus of this study, has been perusing the “modernization” of its education system post-independence, borrowing a range of western concepts which are to be implemented by its teaching workforce which is feminised, like most advanced economies (Fimyar 2015). Moving to the links between gender and modernity, the “rational, competent teacher” in Western thought “privileges masculine ‘gender codes’ in shaping ideas about the modern teacher and their practices” which portray teaching as de-gendered, disembodied and de-contextualised (Dillabough 1999, p. 387). Such a conceptualisation of teacher identity ignores the historical constraints imposed upon women teachers and their capacity to be ‘rational’ agents within the profession (Blackmore, 1996) and overlooks the fact that “the very structure of teaching has been shaped by biologically determined gender dualisms which have led to the coding of women as ‘feminine’ and, hence, the representation of ‘women teachers as mothers’ (Dillabough 1999, page 380).
It is interesting to explore how the intersection between gender and teaching might be shifting in the context of online/ distance and blended schooling in Kazakhstan.
The specific questions that the paper explores include:
- What are teachers’ experiences of distance/online learning, particularly regarding curriculum coverage, pedagogy and forms of assessment?
- How are teachers’ experiences differentiated across gender and family status, grades and subjects, school types, rural vs urban location?
The study questions are explored through in-person and online in-depth semi-structured interviews with 30 teachers across three regions in Kazakhstan. Of these, 10 interviews each were conducted in the capital city, Nur-Sultan located in the north, Almaty region located in the southeast and Shymkent, one of three Kazakhstani cities which have a status equal to a region, located in south-central Kazakhstan. Within each region, the focus was on schools catering to marginalised populations and mainstream schools funded by the state, although for a comparative perspective, a small number of teachers from Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools (NIS) (schools for gifted students) were also included. While the former category of schools is resource constrained, particularly in rural locations, the NIS receive a “multimillion dollar investment”, although they cater to “less than 1% of 1-year student cohort in the country” (Fimyar 2015, 1516). Given the feminised nature of the teaching workforce in Kazakhstan, the vast majority of interviewed teachers were women but a small number of men also participated in the study. A multilingual team of research assistants who had a graduate degree with research training and experience and all of whom were or have been school teachers was recruited and trained to collect the interview data under the supervision of more experienced researchers. Each research assistant maintained a diary to reflect on after every interview. These reflections are also used as data. The interviews took place in either Russian or Kazakh, the two official languages of the Republic of Kazakhstan. With the consent of participants, all interviews were audio-recorded and are being transcribed and translated into English to be rigorously analysed in NVivo.
Emerging findings from our team discussions, research assistants' reflective diaries and a small number of interview transcripts available at the time of writing this abstract suggest that shifting to on-line/ distance/ blended schooling has presented teachers with specific challenges as well as opportunities. Additionally, the challenges and opportunities of online schooling are both gendered and linked to location, disciplinary area and grade level. “Performing” teaching in the online space has placed teachers under the gaze of parents, exposing them to critique and their professionalism being questioned. In other words, their identity as a “rational, competent teacher” is increasingly being questioned, alongside criticism of falling short of fulfilling their “mothering” identity. A particular arena where teachers find it hard to accomplish their “rational competent teacher identity” is assessment. Overall, it appears that difficulties of the initial transition to online schooling have to an extent been overcome but concerns of social justice and equity remain. Despite the challenges of online schooling, there are specific gendered opportunities for teachers. Female teachers with children, particularly those in cities who need to commute long distances in traditional offline schooling find online teaching beneficial since they get more time to spend with their family. Male teachers who are compelled by online schooling to stay home and spend more time with their family, perhaps for the first time, have the opportunity to share more time and space with their family. This experience could help shift gender relations in their household even when some male teachers view this opportunity as a constraint. The paper discusses the gender-specific implications for teacher support and well-being.
Blackmore, J. (1996). Doing ‘emotional labour’ in the education market place: Stories from the field of women in management. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 17(3), 337-349. Dillabough, J.-A. (1999). Gender politics and conceptions of the modern teacher: Women, identity and professionalism. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 20(3), 373–394. https://doi.org/10.1080/01425699995326 Fimyar, O. (2015). Five conversations and three notes on the “Soviet,” or finding a place for personal history in the study of teacher education policy in Kazakhstan. In International Handbook of Interpretation in Educational Research (pp. 1513-1532). Springer, Dordrecht. Hargreaves, A. (2020). Teachers must lead schools' response to Covid-19. Times Education Supplement. 3 April 2020. Helmer, J., Harper, H. & Wolgemuth, J. (2018). Teachers’ values and expectations of Technology in Northern Territory primary schools. The Eurasia Proceedings of Educational & Social Sciences (EPESS), Vol.1. USA: International Society for Research in Education and Science, 10(1), 156-162. Durrani, N., & Nawani, D. (2020). Knowledge and Curriculum Landscapes in South Asia: An Introduction. In P. Sarangapani, & R. Pappu (Eds.), Handbook of Education Systems in South Asia: Global Education Systems (pp. 1-31). Springer Singapore. https://doi.org/https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F978-981-13-3309-5_53-1 Rizvi, F. (2014). Encountering education in the global: The selected works of Fazal Rizvi. Routledge.
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