NCERT releases training material to sensitise teachers, administrators about transgender, gender-nonconforming children

The training material explains concepts such as gender identity, gender incongruence, gender dysphoria, gender affirmation among various others. It also provides definitions of terms that people use to identify themselves; some of these are gender fluid, agender, transfeminine, and transmasculine.

Chintan Girish Modi November 01, 2021 09:38:56 IST
NCERT releases training material to sensitise teachers, administrators about transgender, gender-nonconforming children

Recognising the urgency to address gender disparities in education, National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) in Delhi has released a new publication titled Inclusion of Transgender Children in School Education: Concerns and Roadmap. It is available for anyone to download freely from the NCERT website. The project was coordinated by Dr Poonam Agrawal, Professor and former Head, Department of Gender Studies, NCERT.

The training material explains concepts such as gender identity, gender incongruence, gender dysphoria, gender affirmation, gender expression, gender conformity, gender variance, heterosexuality, homosexuality, asexuality, bisexuality, transnegativity, among various others, through a detailed glossary. It also provides definitions of terms that people use to identify themselves; some of these are gender fluid, agender, transfeminine, and transmasculine.

Dr Agrawal says, “The inclusion of all children is part of our mandate as an institution, so we decided to prepare training material that would sensitise teachers and teacher educators about the lived experiences, achievements, struggles, and aspirations of transgender and gender-nonconforming children. To make this happen, it was important to partner with people who belong to these communities, and are in close contact with grassroot-level realities.”

The project team includes Dr Bittu Kaveri Rajaraman-Kondaiah, an Associate Professor of Biology and Psychology at Ashoka University, Vikramaditya Sahai, an Associate at the Centre for Law and Policy Research, and Priya Babu, the Managing Trustee at Transgender Resource Centre. Dr Agrawal mentions that their inputs helped the NCERT learn about the contributions of transgender and gender-nonconforming people in various fields.

The training material contains a section titled 'Success Stories of Transgender Persons to Serve as Role Models.' It features engineer Grace Banu, bodybuilder Aryan Pasha, dancer Narthaki Nataraj, community researcher Santa Khurai, university professor Manobi Bandyopadhyay, medical doctor and professor Dr Aqsa Shaikh, news anchor Padmini Prakash, human resource professional Siddhant More, and Vihaan Peethambar, who serves as an Expert Committee Member in the National Council for Transgender Persons.

Dr L Ramakrishnan, Vice President, Solidarity and Action Against The HIV Infection in India (SAATHII), who was part of the team preparing the training material, says, "Holistic initiatives to prevent violence faced by transgender and gender-nonconforming children must take into account the harassment they experience at school. When teachers are proactive in affirming their existence and supporting their contributions, dropout rates will decline. The children will be able to enjoy their childhood, complete their education, and find employment."

His inputs to the NCERT training material also drew on field research conducted by his colleagues Randhoni Lairikyengbam and Biswa Bhusan Pattanayak. Lairikyengbam, one of SAATHII's Assistant Directors, has worked on the Sangraha project with a focus on ending violence and discrimination against LGBTIQ+ persons across various domains, including education in Manipur, Telangana, and Odisha. Her team collaborated with NCERT on a training of trainers in Hyderabad in 2018, and also sensitised school administrators, teachers, and students in her focus states on issues such as bullying and non-inclusive infrastructure.

Lairikyengbam says, “During my interactions with school administrators, I met a principal from Manipur who was concerned about a transgender boy in his school who had stopped attending classes. This man went to the student’s house to speak with him, and realised that the student was uncomfortable with the gendered uniform and faced a lot of bullying. The principal had no training to handle the issue but he genuinely cared about the mental health and the future of the child, so he allowed the student to wear pants instead of a skirt.”

Pattanayak, also an Assistant Director with SAATHII, has worked on the Vistaara project to conduct a review of language textbooks for Standards VIII-XII in English, Gujarati, Malayalam, and Tamil since 2017. This was done in partnership with organisations such as Nirantar Trust in Delhi, Vikalp in Gujarat, Queerala in Kerala, and Nirangal Trust in Tamil Nadu. Natural science and social science textbooks were also part of the analysis on gender representation.

He says, “When we examine textbooks, it is crucial to take note of the visuals in addition to the text as they can have a significant impact on the minds of students. It was common to see school textbooks depicting women doing household chores, and men engaging in outdoor activities. There was hardly any scope for non-normative gender expression. Because sex and gender were limited to binaries, intersex people were not even mentioned.”

NCERT releases training material to sensitise teachers administrators about transgender gendernonconforming children

Image via Samuel Kubani/AFP

All this groundwork has fed into the NCERT’s new training material. Apart from busting myths about transgender persons, it also gives teachers concrete ideas on how they can modify or add to existing content from textbooks published by the NCERT. Dr Agrawal says that the NCERT will use this training material in all its training programmes, and also encourage the State Council of Educational Research and Training (SCERT) in every state and the District Institute for Education and Training (DIET) in every district to use this material.

Dr Mona Yadav and Dr Mily Roy Anand, both professors at the NCERT’S Department of Gender Studies, have also been part of the project team along with Astha Priyadarshini, who is a Junior Project Fellow in the department. Priyadarshini’s inputs were based on her MA dissertation titled 'Growing Up Gendered: A Transgender Experience of Conflicted Childhood and the Incongruences of Gendering Process,' for which she conducted 18 in-depth interviews to understand how transgender identity is experienced by transgender people.

The NCERT’s training material lists out a number of practical strategies for making schools sensitive and inclusive for transgender and gender non-conforming children. These strategies include provision of gender-neutral toilets and uniforms, sensitisation on non-teaching staff, discontinuing practices that segregate children into various school activities based on their gender, creation of support groups in schools, inviting transgender speakers on campus etc.

Sagnik Dutta, Assistant Professor at Jindal Global Law School, says, “As a non-binary person, it is heartening for me to see the NCERT’s training material on inclusion of transgender and gender non-conforming children in schools. A lot of us have faced bullying in childhood, and it had a lasting effect on our sense of self-worth.” Dutta is glad that the NCERT has taken up this issue as it has the capacity to reach teachers in various parts of India outside big cities.

Meeta Sengupta, a seasoned advisor on education strategy and policy, wonders if Indian school teachers will have “the confidence in their own abilities to be able to absorb and deliver to this expectation of inclusion even if they are sensitised, as is said in the well-researched NCERT roadmap.” She points out that teachers are likely to need coping strategies for situations that they fear will occur in everyday classroom interactions.

She thinks that the training material aligns well with the intent of India’s National Education Policy to support Socially and Economically Disadvantaged Groups (SEDGs). However, teachers will need support “in changing their language, building multi-gender exercises, dispute resolution, and handling classroom negotiations.” If implemented well, the training material can take teachers and students on “a wise, inclusive, and progressive journey.”

Sengupta believes that transgender people in India have been excluded from economic and social progress for too long, and that the NCERT’s training material can certainly help in repairing this rift through sensitisation of teachers. She says, “In including the marginalised, every child is served because everyone learns to focus on what is important, to work with a range of people, and to internalise the practice of questioning your own preconceptions.”

Chintan Girish Modi is a Mumbai-based writer who tweets @chintan_connect.

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