Widening access to careers in education for women and girls in Africa can have an immensely beneficial effect for themselves and the communities in which they live. It can enhance opportunities for health, literacy and employment, improving their overall life chances. In the Sustainable Development Goals Gender Equality Index (Equal Measures 2030, 2019), Botswana ranked 83rd, Ghana 94th, Nigeria 122nd and South Africa 71st from 129 countries, thus making them all contexts that require further investigation. The reasons for gender inequality in these four ODA contexts include socio-cultural, economic and religious differences (Fatimayin, 2012), as well as the preference for male children as future leaders and role models (Omoregie & Abraham, 2009). According to the British Council (2012), education is central to any attempt to address gender imbalances (Iduma & Iduma, 2014). Moreover, while acknowledging success in gender disparity in enrolment practices, Mustapha and Mills (2015) specifically recommend the evaluation of gender imbalance in teacher training curricula and textbooks which tend to reproduce rather than challenge existing power relationships within society.

To address these challenges in the four ODA contexts identified above, the first phase of THEMIS will involve a systematic review of research on gender equality and equity in English language teaching. It will critically explore research on gender and English language teaching, learning and training since Sunderland’s state of the art review article (2000) and related work, examining the key theoretical and methodological developments from an international perspective. Subsequent sections will then explore research on gender and language education in general and in the four ODA countries in particular; the role of ICT policy in English language teaching training curricula, given its increasing strategic importance in technology-enhanced learning; and research on gender representations in English language teacher training materials, both more widely and in Africa.

The English language continues to maintain its relevance as the preferred language of teaching and learning in most Anglophone African countries thus making it an international language with implications for social justice issues such as gender equality and ICT policy (Ezumah, 2020). UNESCO perceives gender discrimination and gender inequality as a human rights violation and one of the main obstacles preventing the attainment of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (UNESCO, 2019; Fatimayin, 2012; Omoregie & Abraham, 2009 ). Indeed, gender equality and equity are integral to socio-economic growth. However, teacher training, in-service training, and continuous professional development for English language teachers are often conducted on a part-time basis in Africa, thus disadvantaging female teachers who typically combine working with family and community-related responsibilities. In addressing the ‘glass ceilings’ that many women and girls face in ODA countries related to career progression, leadership roles and income disparities, the THEMIS project responds to Sustainable Development Goal 4.c which targets the improvement of quality in teacher education and Goal 5 on gender equality, focusing on Botswana, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa, to address the challenges associated with providing teacher education for female English language teachers who are a marginalised group.

Over the last two decades a steady stream of research has indicated that there has been a systematic decline in the standard of English language teacher training in Africa, which has resulted in high dropout rates for teachers and falling standards of English proficiency overall. This is particularly the case in post-conflict regions and in low income ODA countries where teachers are poorly qualified, there is a crumbling infrastructure, and there are implications for learner motivation and performance as a result of poverty and persistent crisis. Whereas popular media and state authorities tend to blame teachers for these results, research suggests that the root of the problem lies with policymakers and the English language teacher training curriculum and the types of teacher-centred approaches, methodologies and pedagogies that it continues to develop (Tom-Lawyer, 2014).

Given this context, a substantive curriculum evaluation process is essential and studies which triangulate the background, knowledge and practices of English language teacher trainers and trainees need to be conducted across several types of teacher training institutions in several national contexts in Africa if we are to acquire a thorough understanding of current practice and to improve the process to train competent English teachers in line with SDG 4.c. Torto’s (2017) study of teachers in the Cape Coast region of Ghana indicates that teachers in the region “do not implement the English curriculum well. The reasons being that they have not been trained to teach English, neither have they also been given in-service training in the subject area” (p.174). Moreover, Jordaan (2011) studied the academic achievement of South African learners and concludes that one of the reasons for the poor achievement of “South African learners is that the pivotal role of language in education is neglected in the curriculum and in teacher-training programmes, resulting in limited language awareness, and consequently inadequate teaching methods that lead to language difficulties across all curriculum areas” (p. 79). He further encouraged researchers to provide input to “teacher-training programmes, collaborating with teachers on setting and developing language-learning goals, and developing academic language” (p. 84). Similarly, Tom-Lawyer (2014) evaluated the implementation of the English language Curriculum of the Nigeria Certificate in Education (NCE) Program, a minimum prerequisite for teaching in Nigeria and concluded that poor teacher training and inadequate language skills exhibited by teachers positively correlate to poor performance of Nigerian students in standardized testing. This situation is most acute in Sub-Saharan Africa and Botswana suffers from the same predicament (Ombati & Mokua 2012). Gender inequality is evident in many educational institutions in Botswanan institutions and this is characterised by skewed enrolments, stereotypical course selection, and poor career progression (Pheko, Dioka & Batsalelwang, 2018). Although the Education 2030 agenda recognizes that gender equality requires an approach that “ensures that girls and boys, women and men not only gain access to and complete education cycles” (UNESCO 2019), there is also a view that education contributes to gender inequality (Ombati & Mokua, 2012). Some researchers suggest that this situation is perpetuated by parents who prefer to educate male rather than female children because they are more likely to benefit from uninterrupted linear career paths, and by employers who discriminate against women during pregnancy (Mulinge 2002; Mookodi 2008). Botswana is an ideal site for this study because the level of gender awareness is high due to the presence of advocacy groups such as Emang Basadi and Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) who aim to present positive role models to women and girls. Such groups need more evidence-informed educational studies if they are to provide the data to transform current laws and challenge stereotypical representations of women in the media.  

If effective, a thorough curriculum evaluation process will lead to more forms of student-centred teaching and learning, as well as the content, resources and other elements required for a fit-for-purpose English language curriculum that offers opportunities for women and girls as well as men and boys (Al-Jardani, 2011). To facilitate this process the CIPP evaluation model (Context, Input, Process and Product) has been chosen as the main theoretical framework for the study. The model, which aims to influence the policy level, conducts an interconnected evaluation of planning, internal structures, implementation and decision-making (Stufflebeam, 2003). The application of the model in different disciplines demonstrates that it is agile and can be used in several international contexts. However, while the CIPP model has been used extensively in the developed world, no significant comparative studies to our knowledge have been undertaken across several ODA contexts.

Its use in the context of the THEMIS project in the four ODA countries will add a new dimension to curriculum evaluation, as the role of gender equity and equality and the consequences of ICT-enabled pedagogies in teacher development will be incorporated. An increasing divide between male and female usage of ICT in ODA countries indicates this is an area worthy of further evaluation and investigation in relation to teacher education to aid their academic and professional development. Research on English language teacher training and gender inequality in Africa continues to be a strategic priority because of the widening gender gap in ICT usage, which indicates that women continue to trail men in benefiting from the potentially transformational powers of educational technologies. While the Internet and other emergent technologies’ usage continues to increase, the digital gender gap is growing quickly in African countries and other developing nations. Indeed, for the past four years, ITU statistics on Measuring Digital Development Facts and Figures (ITU, 2020) demonstrate a widening gap in the percentage of male and female members of the population using the Internet, with the gap increasing from 7 percentage points in 2016 to 17 points in 2020.

This study will also explore this disparity as it relates to and affects the teacher training process. Indeed, gender inequalities are particularly important during the COVID-19 era when most training, teaching and learning have been done remotely with the aid of ICT. Acknowledging this universal quality of the language, Mufuraga and Moremi (2017) noted that “English unifies the globe and a great deal of this unification comes through the use of ICT” (p.142) especially in our contemporary world where face-to-face and distance learning, both synchronous and asynchronous, are dependent on emergent technologies. Indeed, Mufaraga and Moremi’s (2017) Botswana study confirms this, arguing that some teachers have limited ICT knowledge and skills because of “limited ICT training at teacher training institutions on how to infuse ICT into English Language teaching” (p. 149).

Arising from this focus on gender inequality and equity, THEMIS will also investigate representations of gender in the textbooks and English language materials typically used for English language teaching and teacher training. Gray (2013, p. 3) suggests, foreign language textbooks normalise ideas about identity “in that the meanings they seek to create tend to endorse and reproduce … existing power relations, particularly with regard to … race, gender and sexual orientation”. For Sunderland (2015, p. 20) representation is “a matter of selecting from a pool of possible choices, with the availability/desirability of choices being filtered through ideology and an awareness of what is transgressive and the consequences of transgression”. Moreover, Fairclough (2014) argues that it is important to interrogate the ideological assumptions of language learning materials to uncover the hidden traces of social practices.      Developing from this theoretical work on ideology critique, research over the last two decades in particular has focused on language teaching and gender representation (Cameron, 1998), exploring gender bias and stereotypical representations (Mustapha & Mills, 2015). Research suggests that both textual and visual imagery in language teaching materials can shape learners’ and teachers’ understanding of gender inequality in wider society (Lee, 2014), as they represent the ideologies of authors and publishers (Kumagai (2014), either in open or tacit ways through the ‘hidden curriculum’ (Mustapha & Mills, 2015; Lee, 2014) that often portrays women as invisible, underrepresented, passive, and/or in low level jobs, while men are more visible, active and undertake professional jobs (Jones et al., 1997). Research on textbooks and gender has been conducted around the world (Sunderland, 2000), in Australia (Lee & Collins, 2009), Japan (Lee, 2014), Pakistan (Shah, 2019), and Iran (Marefat & Marzban, 2014), and across a range of sectors including primary and secondary school materials (Esmaeili & Arabmofrad, 2015). Data analysis has included critical discourse approaches (CDA) (Esmaeili & Arabmofrad, 2015) or a combination of qualitative analysis with corpus linguistics (Lee, 2014). Considerably fewer studies on this area have been conducted to date in African countries focusing on EFL materials used in teacher training from the gender inequality perspective (Mustapha & Mills, 2015), and more research is required on multimodal approaches to language teaching materials, both online and in printed form for trainee language teachers as well as language learners. In investigating the representation of female identity in the workplace and family life in English language materials and textbooks frequently used in language teacher training contexts, the THEMIS project will also seek to understand how teacher trainers and trainee teachers replicate or challenge prevailing representations of gender inequality in pedagogical contexts and the types of English language teaching pedagogy that they use. This approach adds a novel new dimension to previous research in the field and seeks to engage teacher trainers and trainee teachers in reflective dialogues about their lived experience and to analyse these through the lens social justice, critical ethnography and critical pedagogy perspectives.