Students shouting out for social justice

By RACHAEL ANDERSON,
education editor

There wasn’t even a whisper, let alone a shout, about gender equality in some schools this International Women’s Day.

Some secondary students voiced their concern at the lack of discussion in school about IWD and its accompanying social issues.

Samantha Bignell wishes more was done to celebrate IWD at her school. Picture: Supplied

Samantha Bignell, a year 9 student at Highvale Secondary College, said she believed it was important for teachers to address social justice issues and was surprised nothing had been done to recognise IWD at her school this week.

“I think it should be at least mentioned so that everyone knows, because I think a lot of people at school wouldn’t even know that March 8 is International Women’s Day.”

“It’s an important day where we’re able to get a message of support out, especially to all the women who have been sexually harassed or who feel like they’re not as important as men,” she said.

Jacob, a year 12 student at Highvale Secondary College, said he was unaware that March 8 was celebrated as International Women’s Day.

“I don’t think the topic of gender equality is really taught at all in school.”

He said students often felt uncomfortable or inappropriate discussing sensitive issues such as sexual harassment in a classroom setting.

“Studying a subject that looks at social issues such as gender equality, without any filter, in a way in which all opinions could be expressed, would be valuable.”

Aiming to encourage discussion of women’s achievements in classrooms, Penguin Random House last week released Shout Out to the Girls – a book honouring Australian women, from suffragettes to filmmakers.

Zoe Bechara said it was important to celebrate the achievements of Australian women. Picture: Concrete Playground

Zoe Bechara, publicity manager for children’s books at the publisher, said the idea for the book was formed when the all-female publishing team realised the need for a definitive book celebrating Australian women’s achievements.

“There were international versions, but no book showcased the tenacity, the courage and the brilliance of the diverse Aussie women featured in Shout Out to the Girls.”

Penguin also produced teaching resources based on the book which are available for teachers to use in conjunction with the text. The lesson plans outlined are designed to encourage conversation about feminism and women’s rights.

Waverley Christian College English and Media teacher Belinda Lynch said her students were very aware of International Women’s Day and its significance in the fight for these rights.

“Our school has been celebrating International Women’s Day this week with posters around the school of inspirational women … all of them chosen by students.”

Ms Lynch said the role of teachers was a vital element in shaping children’s ideas of social justice.

Dr David Zyngier believes social justice education should form an important part of the schooling curriculum.

“With students (and teachers) so engaged with social media, it can sometimes be easy to feel like we are making a change through ‘click activism’, but it’s also important to encourage students to give up some of their time and resources to make a change.” 

Monash University senior lecturer in Curriculum and Pedagogy Dr David Zyngier agreed teachers could positively influence the way children considered social issues such as gender inequality.

“It’s all about modelling the practices of social justice and gender equity in our everyday practice as teachers.”