More than 1,400 Australian schools are set to offer gender-neutral programs to help students cope with sexual abuse and assault, including a first grade girls’ school, and more than 3,500 teachers are in training to deliver them.
But they have been overshadowed by a government education policy that has seen them labelled “sexist” and “sex-negative” by an advisory body.
Education Minister Simon Birmingham has made it a priority to provide all children in Australia with access to a gender-free curriculum that would “make the world a better place for girls”.
“This is a world-changing opportunity to make Australia the safest and most inclusive country in the world,” he said in a statement.
The Australian Education Union (AEU) says the move is part of the “revisionist” school reform agenda, which includes creating a national curriculum for primary, secondary and tertiary education.
It is a step in the right direction but it’s a step that can’t be a part of a new national curriculum, it says.
“We have a government that wants to create a world where boys and girls are taught differently.
We are in a position where we’re not going to have that,” said Ms Gee.”
The idea of having a curriculum that’s really gender neutral is really problematic for our community, it is problematic for children, it’s problematic for parents, it means it’s not inclusive.”
It has been reported that some Australian schools have offered courses that are sexist and that they don’t accept students who identify as transgender.
“Some schools are actually saying that they’re just trying to do the best they can in the classroom, and they’re not trying to be more inclusive, because they’re doing a job and the best way to make a difference is to do it in the class,” Ms Gie said.
“It’s about trying to create an environment where children are learning to think differently and it’s about creating a culture where children feel valued, it doesn’t matter who you are.”
In addition to gender-blind programs, the AEU has called for more formal training for teachers and curriculum that is gender neutral and has also urged teachers to address issues that affect young people including gender identity and sexual assault.
The AEU says more than 70 per cent of students who come to the program do so for the right reasons.
“This means that the program will help young people in their transition from school to their adulthood, including those who identify and support themselves in their gender identity or gender expression, and those who are sexually assaulted or harassed,” the group said in its 2017 statement.
“But it also means that young people who come into the program and are able to access it and do so with confidence will be able to learn about their rights and opportunities, while providing support to those who need it most.”