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Gender Transformative Education – a response to prevailing misinformation about Gender Responsive Pedagogy for Early Childhood Education

The DBE is aware of the concerns raised by various religious, spiritual, cultural, educational and traditional associations regarding our recently developed Toolkit on Gender Responsive Pedagogy for Early Childhood Education. The Department takes this opportunity to clarify the purpose and objectives of this important initiative, and to address some of the misconceptions that have arisen.

The Gender Responsive Pedagogy toolkit is not aimed at promoting any particular ideology, including transgender ideology, amongst young children. The primary focus of the toolkit is to provide guidance to early childhood education practitioners and foundation phase educators on how to create learning environments that are free from harmful gender stereotypes and biases to ensure that all children have equal opportunities to learn, grow and reach their full potential.

This work is guided by the National Development Plan 2030 (NDP), the National Strategic Plan on Gender-based Violence and Femicide (NSP-GBVF) and Priority 6 of the Medium Term Strategic Framework on Social Cohesion and Nation Building, which advocate for the promotion of equal gender rights towards an inclusive and just society. In particular, the NSP-GBVF places on the DBE the responsibility to Promote Gender Empowerment in school communities and increase intersectional alliances in the prevention of GBVF on the grounds of race; gender; sex; ethnic or social origin; sexual orientation; age; disability; religion; belief; culture; language; and birth.

Research has shown that gender identities and stereotypes about intellectual abilities start forming from a very young age, as early as 2-6 years old. These early biases can have a profound and lasting impact on children's self-perceptions, attitudes, behaviour and life choices. They also contribute to gender-based discrimination and the perpetuation of societal inequalities. As the Department responsible for the education and wellbeing of all South African children, it is our duty to intervene early to prevent these negative trajectories from taking root.

The Gender Responsive Pedagogy Toolkit for Early Childhood Education is not aimed at dividing children from their parents or undermining family values. The toolkit encourages the active involvement of parents and caregivers in their children's learning, and provides evidence-based tips for reinforcing positive gender attitudes and behaviours at home.

The toolkit does not seek to erase or devalue the differences between boys and girls. However, these differences should not limit the life opportunities or potential of any child. Every girl has the right to grow up believing that she is just as capable as the boys around her. Every boy has the right to embrace his full humanity, including qualities like gentleness and empathy, without fear of stigma. The gender-responsive pedagogy involves taking a proactive approach to promoting gender equity in all aspects of the early childhood education environment. This includes ensuring that learning materials, toys and visual aids are free from stereotypical depictions of gender roles. It means creating opportunities for all children to engage in a wide range of play activities, without being limited by gendered expectations. The toolkit also enables educators to deal with the gendered realities that young children are already exposed to in their homes and communities.

In developing the Gender Responsive Pedagogy toolkit, the DBE has drawn from a wealth of scientific evidence on how children develop and learn, as well as best practices from around the world. We have consulted extensively with early childhood experts, gender specialists, academics and civil society representatives. Contrary to what some have claimed, this is not an imported Western agenda, but a sincere attempt to address the realities confronting our children here in South Africa, guided by the Constitutional Values of equality and dignity.

In conclusion, we want to reassure all South Africans that our sole agenda is to create a more just and equitable society for all our children to grow up in. Whilst we remain committed to working collaboratively with all stakeholders, including parents, religious leaders and traditional authorities, to find constructive solutions to the challenges we face as a nation, we will protect the realisation of the Constitution to the best interest of the child. The Gender Responsive Pedagogy toolkit is not a panacea, but an important step towards building a future where every child can thrive and reach their full potential, unconstrained by gender stereotypes and discrimination.

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