Promoting gender inclusion in a distance learning course to increase female recruitment to teaching

Wolfenden, Freda and Murphy, Patricia (2014). Promoting gender inclusion in a distance learning course to increase female recruitment to teaching. In: Seventh Pan-Commonwealth Forum on Open Learning (PCF7), 2-6 Dec 2013, Abuja, Nigeria.



The paper discusses data from an open distance learning programme ‘Supporting women into teaching in rural Malawi’ funded by the Scottish Government and designed and led by the Open University UK in partnership with FAWEMA ( Forum for African Women Educationalists in Malawi). Recruiting more women into teaching is seen as supporting girls’ continued participation in primary schooling, particularly in rural areas. This access programme offers participants distance learning study to achieve the qualifications necessary for application to a formal primary teacher training course combined with practical experience as a ‘learning assistant’ in their local primary school. Support is provided by a local tutor, usually a secondary school teacher.

Programme materials adopt a participatory approach to learning recognising learning as a transformation of identity, where identity is the pivot between the individual and the collective. This focuses attention on the affordances made available to learners to negotiate ways of being a student within the systems of relations in the programme. Hence the tutor –learner relationship is crucial. School subjects have values attached to them that reflect their gendered sociocultural legacies. These influence tutors and learners and mediate their interactions shaping the possibilities for female learners to develop identities as successful students. Tutor mediation thus poses critical challenges to achieving programme aspirations. Interview and workshop data indicate that for many tutors the approach is in tension with their ‘teacher –centred’ pedagogic practice and reveal how they attribute learners’ previous lack of success to particular behaviours and innate abilities that reflect gendered beliefs. The discussion considers how to disrupt tutor beliefs and practices so that identities of competency and belonging as subject learners and novice teachers are extended to, and experienced by learners. The implications for tutor induction and practice on distance learning programmes to advance gender equality are also drawn out.

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