Exploring possibilities of creating gender equitable learning environment in an early childhood classroom

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Education (PhD)


Institute for Educational Development, Karachi


This study explored the possibilities of creating a gender equitable learning environment in one of the Early Childhood Education (ECE) classrooms in Karachi, Pakistan through a Collaborative Action Research (CAR). The actions, reflections and retrospections were guided by the Feminist poststructuralist theoretical lens throughout the study. Two ECE teachers and 43 five year old (23 girls and 20 boys) children participated in this collaborative action research which was conducted in a non-for-profit private school. Various data collection strategies were used throughout the study. This included in-depth interviews, dialogues, observations, pre and post observation discussions with the teachers and reflective dialogues during and after drawings, stories, play, games with children. The participating teachers and I maintained reflective journals as part of our commitment to reflexivity during the study. An analysis of the discourses and discursive practices of participating ECE teachers and children revealed that initially both the groups positioned themselves within the essentialist discourse of gender and viewed gender as part of biological sex determinism. However, feminist poststructuralist methods such as deconstruction through reading and discussing literature, dialogues, critical actions and reflections helped the participating ECE teachers to expand their theoretical and practical repertoire regarding gender equity in early childhood. This enabled the teachers to disrupt the processes of promoting stereotypical masculine and feminine traits and oppressive gender relationships among children in the classroom. Cross case analysis of the five focused children revealed that collaborative efforts, critical actions and reflections enabled us (teachers and myself) to destabilize the hegemonic ways of being boys; deconstruct femininity and celebrate gender risk taking among both girls and boys. Hence, the study indicated possibilities for transforming the classroom learning environment in the context of ECE in Pakistan. The cyclical process of critical actions and reflections in the study revealed that a combination of child initiated and teacher/researcher led activities worked as appropriate pedagogical strategies to create a gender equitable learning environment. The strategies such as storytelling, dramatization of stories, opportunities of cross gender play, group discussions, dialogues and conversations about gender were particularly illuminating for effectively engaging young children inside and outside the classroom. The research process further revealed that teachers' and children's gender discourses were highly influenced by the complex intersection of their multiple identities. Therefore, the study emphasized the importance of closer bonds with children's families to strive for transformational changes in children's feeling, thinking and practicing of gender differently in the patriarchal context of Pakistan. The study has contributed to the growing body of knowledge around gender equity issues in ECE in Pakistan in variety of ways. Firstly, it recognizes that young children are capable of critical reflection and dialogues regarding gender equity issues. Secondly, it has highlighted the critical role ECE teachers as well as children themselves play in producing, reproducing, perpetuating and or disrupting the existing gender discourses. Thirdly, it has identified some contextually relevant pedagogical strategies to disrupt the oppressive gender relations and has shown children the possibilities of thinking, seeing and doing gender in multiple ways. Furthermore, the study has opened up possibilities to use transformative research methodologies at PhD level studies. Finally, the study has presented an example of applying feminist poststructuralist theory for deeper engagement in gender equity related issues in an educational setting of Pakistan.

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