When it comes to gender distinction, people generally fall into two camps: those who insist that the differences between a boy and a girl are biologically hard-wired, and the ones who say the differences are nurtured, exacerbated and reinforced by society.
From the color of the first flannel to the choice of games and toys, we, as society, invariably make children understand the limits gender places on them from an early age; unless of course you live in the woods and homeschool your kids.
For the same reason, even though the death of Gauri, the Kollam student who jumped off a school building over an argument with a teacher who made her sister sit with boys, has triggered a lot of discussions on gender issues, the fact remains that nothing much can be done to counteract the societal biases.
If you think otherwise, try telling a girl in third standard to give a hug to a boy in her class; you would be shocked by her repulsion. And the feelings are mutual. The children are not to blame because that’s what they are taught about their 'different bodies'. No one tells them that they are individuals and they have to be guarded only up to an extent.
A popular Quora thread that discusses the reason why teachers ‘punish’ their pupils by making them sit with the opposite gender offers another interesting insight into the issue. An answer by Seema Shah, a Mumbai-based teacher, looks into another dimension of the strange punishment. Shah, who is not in support of punishments of any sort, says thus: “In our society, boy-girl friendships are not encouraged much. For the same reason, kids flock together with the same gender group. Hence, if a person is found with someone from the opposite gender, it is considered different – something to be scorned at. So, when children are given this kind of ‘punishment’, they feel humiliated."
That said, developing a one-size-fits-all approach to buck gender stereotypes in classrooms may not be a feasible solution to address this problem. Instead, our curricula should focus on the role of teachers in unconsciously promoting gender stereotypes, without squarely putting the onus on them.