The National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) has suggested that efforts be made to attack and break gender stereotyping right at the play-school level. NCERT, which develops school curricula and functions under the Union Human Resource Development Ministry, believes that such an initiative would eliminate gender biases among children as they grow up. In its new guidelines for pre-school education, NCERT wants teachers to have equal and appropriate expectations of both boys and girls.

NCERT’s recommendations on gender equality are laudable and focus on the genesis of gender prejudices. Children have impressionable minds and spend a lot of time at school. What teachers say, how they behave and what instructional props they use tend to influence the attitudes of students. Teachers need to adopt gender-neutral language and refrain from instilling any biases. The association of the colour pink with girls, for example, must stop.

Also, the activities that boys and girls engage in tend to be dictated by gender. Here, too, teachers often nudge girls and boys apart: sports for boys and dance for girls, for instance. To start with, teachers must grant kids their agency, and let them take up whatever they wish to. Gender awareness among pre-adolescents is usually a matter of social conditioning, and to that extent, the role of teachers is limited. As French feminist and philosopher Simone de Beauvoir had said: "One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman." But good teachers understand that it’s their responsibility to inculcate gender equity as a non-negotiable value.

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