The Hjalli Model is a very active teaching model which has the clear goal of equality and freedom from gender constraints. One of the main staples of the Hjalli Model is single gender classes (based on the gender and gender identity of the child), which is simply the method we feel is most effective at helping us reach that goal. We recognise that mixed gender classes can create many difficulties, especially in terms of detaching gender from certain qualities, behaviours and roles. We are constantly bombarded with messages about how we are supposed to behave as girls and boys, women and men. These messages are limiting and maintain a gender system that is unfair. Men experience constrictive masculinity while at the same time being allocated more respect and power by virtue of their gender, while women experience the impossible demands of femininity while occupying a second class position in society. In gender mixed groups girls generally take on feminine roles and boys take on masculine ones which strengthens and maintains this limiting and unfair gender system. Some of the problems faced by gender mixed classes (which Hjalli schools wish to avoid) are:
Unequal shares of attention, teaching, encouragement and space
Research has shown that girls only receive around one quarter of their teachers time in classes and occupy less space in playgrounds. Boys tend to claim the lion’s share. However, their position is no more enviable than the marginalised girls’. Most of the attention given to the boys is negative as they are often receiving it as a result of bad behaviour, which in turn sets them up in a detrimental cycle, connecting attention and space with negative behaviour.
Both genders* tend to seek out tasks and exhibit behaviour which is considered appropriate for their gender. In mixed gender schools this leads to each gender monopolizing so called gender roles along with the tasks and behaviours connected to them, which in turn excludes the other gender from taking on new roles and practising new behaviour which is not considered appropriate for their gender. Therefore, mixed gender environments can in fact support and reinforce traditional gender roles.
The Hjalli Model Solution: single gender classes
The Hjalli Model aims to free children from gender constraints. Single gender classes is the method used to do this, making it possible for children to take on certain qualities, behaviours and roles without them being reserved or claimed by the other gender. We wish to counteract the social construction of gender that children experience in society and offer them more choices and freedom by detaching gender to certain qualities, behaviours, professions, roles, appearance and so on. To do this we for e.g. allocate time for compensation projects and games for boys that aim to strengthen their empathy and caretaking, without the girls taking over, while for the girls we aim to strengthen their courage and self-confidence, without the boys taking charge. We also aim to prevent the buildup of gender opposites and instead work towards deconstructing the gender binary and creating more possibilities for each individual, regardless of gender. We recognise that the genders must be able to function together and therefore boys and girls interact daily performing tasks and projects that both groups have been trained in so as to prevent one gender dominating the other. In doing this we wish to provide boys and girls with positive interactions and views of each other.
Working with single gender classes and equality
Working with only one gender at a time is a simple and effective way of giving both genders their rightful share of attention, teaching, encouragement and space. The girls and boys groups perform the same tasks and learn the same things in identical surroundings, making sure that both genders are treated equally. With single gender classes each gender is more free to expand and move outside gender norms without (both direct and indirect) exclusion from the other gender. By doing this girls are able to adhere to things that the boys would otherwise monopolize and vice versa. By having single gender classes there are no gender zones, games, markers nor gendered language within the classroom. In this way girls and boys receive both training, teaching and the freedom to experience things that they would otherwise be denied simply because of their gender. A large part of the Hjalli Model pedagogy aims to compensate for the lack of so called masculine qualities for girls, which social construction often prevents them from developing, and at the same time compensating for the lack of so called feminine qualities for boys, making sure that each child gets a well rounded education. Single gender classes thereby allow teachers to use various methods depending on the gender they are teaching and the attributes that are to be compensated for. Teachers can aim to encourage girls to become more active and assertive and likewise encourage boys to become more sensitive and less aggressive, while of course catering to individual characteristics and needs.
By creating a climate where all qualities are equal, and where masculinity and femininity are not assigned to one gender, children who do not fit into the gender moulds of society can feel in place within the Hjalli Model. The Hjalli Model recognises that the position of the genders in society is unequal and aims to teach children that men and women can take on any role they wish by e.g. showing them in unconventional roles, while at the same time making sure that equal representation on a whole is upheld.
*While the Hjalli Model recognises that there are not only two exclusive genders, our model is based on working towards deconstructing dominant ideas of gender, which are based on a binary gender system. The work done within the Hjalli Model promotes all forms and expressions of gender and works towards all children being able to be who they wish, regardless of sex, gender and gender identity. Having single gender classes is merely the tool we have chosen to use to reach our goal of equality and freedom from gender oppression.