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Opinions of Thursday, 17 September 2020

Columnist: Patricia Boso

Towards inclusive TVET in Ghana: Where are girls in technology careers?

Almost three decades after Ghana signed onto the UN Charter on the Rights of the Child (1992), the ideals of gender inclusiveness remain hard to realize in technology based Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) learning and career in Ghana. In the wake of the free secondary level education policy in Ghana, girls’ enrolment into TVET institutions has significantly increased.

However, information from the Ghana Education Service (GES) clearly shows that enrolments of girls into male dominated programmes like Electrical Installation Work, Electronics, Auto-Mechanics, among others, remain woefully low. The logical questions then are “Where are the girls and women in TVET?” What is keeping them away?”

Inclusive Education and Training

Education is a means for developing individuals to be responsible members of society. That is why it is not in society’s interest for anyone to be left behind, whether male or female. TVET professions involve the hands-on technologies and related sciences. Their study emphasizes the acquisition of practical skills and attitudes directly related to work life. In Ghana, common TVET careers include dressmaking, catering services, auto mechanics, carpentry and plumbing.

Inclusive TVET means education and training which promotes equity and fairness in the learning environment. The guiding principle of an inclusive training policy acknowledges that all children can learn regardless of differences in age, gender, ethnicity, language, or ability. The effectiveness of the application of this concept can be blocked by gender discrimination.

Indeed, anything in the TVET environment that prevents learners from achieving equity in learning outcomes is discriminatory. In this regard, the UN Charter on the Rights of the Child (1992) states that all children have the right to live in a safe, supportive environment that includes access to an appropriate education. It is not far-fetched to see gender-based inclusiveness as a key underpinning this UN charter.

Drivers of Gender Discrimination in TVET

On the surface, all TVET trades may be gender blind. However, a closer observation of the TVET field reveals otherwise. Girls are traditionally expected to enroll into domestically oriented trades like dressmaking and cosmetology, while boys are associated with auto body mechanics, plumbing and others.

Ghana’s national experience is inundated with systemic, structural and practical roadblocks to inclusive TVET participation for females. Several daunting challenges drive this continuing gender discrimination experienced by girls who would otherwise have successfully participated in male dominated TVET.

Open Drivers of Exclusion

Open or overt discrimination is more observable. On one occasion when this writer was required to share her skills among colleague TVET instructors, one male teacher protested that he would not allow a female to teach him. That was even after his peers had recognized the writer’s competence and had come to seek for help on the subject under discussion.

Similarly, when a teacher praises a female student for achieving excellence at a task, some male students openly downplay their achievements. Other times, some male students may bully and tease the female students. For example, as female students comprise a small minority in these Tecno-TVET curricula, when they perform better than their male peers, they are called names such as ‘Witch’, ‘Obaa Denden’ (hard woman) and ‘Yaa Asantewaa’.

Other overt discriminatory situations are evidenced in practical activities such as soldering in the electrical and electronics trades. Their boy counterparts would sometimes squib saying, “Hey girl, stop holding the soldering iron as if you are cutting tomatoes in your mom’s kitchen”. These daily ridicules, if not managed by the instructor, could result in the girls feeling less confident and result in unequal career outcomes and discrimination.

Hidden Drivers of Exclusion

Unlike the overt drivers, many important factors impeding girls’ participation in TechnoTVET are covert or hidden, culturally inspired and appear socially acceptable. These hidden discriminatory factors in the learning space negatively impart engendered violence in subtle but real ways on girls in TVET learning and work.

They tend to make many girls develop low expectations for their own success, thereby limiting the extent to which they push themselves to achieve laurels in perceived male dominated spheres.

Apparently, this male hegemony exists in the wider Ghanaian society and commonly is reflected in education. For example, males are assumed to be superior in academic and professional endeavors. They are thus accorded the rights of decision making in public and at home. This is unconsciously transferred to the learning environment where teaching and learning materials, including textbooks, frequently and disproportionately show photos and drawings of males engaged in science and technology-based activities.

Conversely, a larger-than proportionate number of images and task illustrations portrayed females undertaking domestic activities such as sewing and cooking. A most serious tragedy of this phenomenon is that a cycle of under achievement is unleashed on the female in Techno-TVET.

To worsen the matter, teachers tend to have higher expectations of boys than they do of girls in Techno-TVET. This directly impacts the way they communicate with their learners.

For example, when a female trainee wants to demonstrate her capability in working with a piece of technical equipment or in undertaking a challenging physical activity in the machine shop, instructors would intervene and say such things as, “The boys are stronger, let them do it”. The not-so-hidden message here is that girls are weaker, ineffective, and less capable of manipulating equipment and undertaking difficult tasks. Thus, the teacher who should have been her ‘cheerleader’ in the TVET learning space becomes her ‘fear leader.’

A girl’s new-found fear is further reinforced by other gender-based inadequacies in the broader school environment. Where access to female-friendly facilities like dedicated washrooms cannot be guaranteed near their classrooms and workshops, girls waste an unreasonable amount of their precious learning time walking to the other end of the campus to access the only bathroom facilities available to them, as is typical of many technical institutions in Ghana.

Sometimes, girls choose not to attend school during their menses because they are not confident that they will be able to manage the practicalities that come with it. Institutions do not typically have feminine hygiene products to help in emergencies that inevitably occur with a population of young women. The inordinate time lost in these circumstances conspires to bring about unequal attainment of learning goals among girls.

It is obvious from decades of our national history that signing a UN charter alone may not be enough to ensure inclusive TVET education among girls. In light of the systemic overt and covert hindrances to the progress of girls in science and mathematics based TVET, there is a national imperative to consciously and aggressively create opportunities for girls to achieve the best education possible in TVET. Such relentless steps should critically assess and respond to the many socio-cultural, infrastructural, technological and psychological drivers of the current exclusion of girls in Techno-TVET.

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