Gender bias in English textbooks in Vietnam: Textbook representations, teacher perspectives, and classroom practices
How stereotyped gender-specific expectations and norms are depicted in teaching materials may negatively influence students’ development and even contribute to social inequalities. The project critically investigates if and how gender bias is presented in English textbooks in Vietnam – a Confucian-heritage society that values patriarchal traditions, and how it is interpreted and responded to by teachers in the classroom.
How is gender represented in English textbooks in Vietnam? How do teachers interpret and respond to gender-sensitive content as presented in the books? The research asks questions about our notions of gender, to explore genderedness. The textbooks are a newly published series for lower secondary education, Vietnam Ministry of Education’s National Foreign Languages Project. A multimodal critical qualitative analysis, combined with quantitative traditions, was employed for the textbook study. Observation and interview were used to investigate classroom interpretation of gender-related content.
Faculty of English Language Teacher Education, University of Languages and International studies/Vietnam National University, Hanoi, Vietnam
The results suggest that the depiction of gender in the textbooks, though starting to provide girls with more life opportunities, is still affected by gender norms and bias. Males not only inhabit bigger verbal space, they are also depicted as having more social properties than females: They have better knowledge, are more socially influential, enjoy higher status in both occupational roles and domestic roles, receive more opportunities, and aim for more ambitious goals. In contrast, although girls are seen as participating on more or less equal terms in some specific areas, they are portrayed as less independent; their choices are more limited, and they seem to receive less development resources than boys. The interview with the textbook authors shows although some efforts were made to ensure an equal presence of female and male characters, gender was not a priority during the textbook writing. Field observations of school English lessons reveal that teachers are not quite sensitive to possible gender issues in the textbooks and in the classroom. Gender content is largely absent from classroom discourse, as teachers prioritise covering and “transferring” textbook contents – mostly in terms of linguistic knowledge. In many cases, teachers’ teaching design and interaction are found to be affected by their own gender bias – both conscious and unconscious. However, textbook authors and teachers all agreed that gender equality is important in society and education, though breaking traditional norms can be difficult.
The study raises questions on the possibility of challenging social norms and stereotypes against women, and, at the same time, creating a new culture narrative in which women’s agency is better recognised and enacted. The research helps increase the awareness of gender equality among societal community and professional groups (textbook writers, teachers, students, etc.) and enable them to recognise gender bias to respond to its challenge. Basing on the results, three main areas to respond to gender inequality are suggested: awareness raising, capacity building, and behaviour change. The current efforts towards gender equality are acknowledged, but better progress needs to be made so that girls’ and women’s empowerment is realised now and in the future.