Primary school teachers’ views on transgender identity were the focus of research done by Ms Karen Sathyanand for her Master’s degree in Education which she received summa cum laude from UKZN.
‘I have always had a passion for women empowerment and a desire to stand up for gender equality,’ said Sathyanand. ‘I decided to pursue my masters and use the platform to explore contemporary challenges surrounding gender and sexual diversity in primary schools, employing the knowledge to help provide solutions to gender problems,’ she said.
The aim of the research, supervised by Professor Deevia Bhana, was to discover where gendered understanding, information and views originate and determine how they shape the teaching and learning environment. ‘During months of planning and organisation I was able to talk to different teachers and really listen and learn about their lives and perspectives on the LGBTIQ+ community and transgender identities in particular.’
Sathyanand believes that the strategies provided in her research can ultimately benefit primary school environments in maintaining an atmosphere that is trans-inclusive and against gender discrimination.
Some of the key findings revealed inadequate knowledge of transgender identity due to essentialist belief systems that impede the construction of gender knowledge. The findings also pointed to a patriarchal society where unequal power relations within communities, culture, tradition and religion oppose transgender and other non-conforming gender identities. Notwithstanding this, the teachers appeared intent to acquire more information on the phenomenon and extend their professional development.
The research provided recommendations that include adopting a whole-school approach that examines developing inclusive strategies of negotiation, compromise, endorsement of well-informed respect for difference, and promotion of conflict resolution practices to deal with differences of opinion.
Sathyanand thanked her family, friends and supervisor. ‘My parents in particular have taken an interest in gender education and continuously encourage me to share research about gender, sexuality and transgender identity during our family meetings. Thank you to everyone who in some way or another helped bring this study to realisation.’
Her advice to other researchers and students is: ‘There will definitely be times where you are exhausted and overwhelmed so prioritise taking time off. Read an article that is not related to your research, go for a run or simply scroll through social media.’
Sathyanand plans to pursue a PhD in the gender field and hopes to play a role in advocating for the inclusion of LGBTIQ+ identities in South African education.