Gender-neutral education: Help or a hindrance?

The latest issue of IB World examines whether gender-neutral schools help eliminate discrimination or simply confuse children

‘Purple penguins’, ‘hen’, ‘humans’ and ‘friends’ are just a few of the gender-neutral terms that have replaced ‘he’ and ‘she’ in some schools. While in others, changing uniform policies and allowing girls to wear trousers and boys skirts, is another way schools are attempting to break down gender barriers. 

Gender is a hot topic in education and society as a whole. In the latest issue of IB World magazine, editor Sophie-Marie Odum speaks to educators, researchers and students to explore if gender-neutral schools effectively stop stereotyping and promote equality and inclusion, or bombard children with information that they don’t need to be thinking about so soon.

On one side of the argument, researcher Ben Kenward, contributor to the report Early preschool environments and gender: Effects of gender pedagogy in Sweden, from the Journal of Experimental Child Psychology (2017), says gender-neutral schooling is positive for a child’s development: “If you don’t have typical ideas of what is gender appropriate, you don’t restrict your own behaviour quite so much, and that encourages more varied experiences, which would be beneficial to development.”

Gender-neutral schools trailblazing in this area, in Sweden, share how successful such policies are. 

But, on the other side of the debate, neuroscientist Debra Soh argues that there is a huge body of research, which shows that gender is associated with biology and it’s “dangerous” to deny this. “This sentiment that gender is something that is entirely learned and there is no biology behind it is factually incorrect,” she says. “There have been studies that have shown that gender preferences are very much innate. Teachers can help a child in terms of how much they accept what they are interested in, but you can’t override what they would naturally gravitate towards.”

The new issue of IB World also examines the growing use of big data, another hot topic in education. Schools are using big data to personalise the learning experience and enhance teaching, but it comes with a warning. Trusting algorithms to make decisions about a child’s future can open the door to racism, sexism and elitism.

The issue has been well received by the IB (International Baccalaureate) and the IB community of educators and students in 149 countries. Haymarket Network has worked with the IB for over a decade, producing IB World magazine, conference specials and regular online content.


Photograph of British child Max Price who has had a gender-neutral upbringing (credit: John Robertson/Barcroft Media)