At Egalia Pre-school, kids get used to hearing their names.
That’s because the preschool and kindergarten located in Stockholm, Sweden, doesn’t use traditionally gendered language like he, she, boy, or, girl. Instead, children are called by their name, or the gender-neutral pronoun formally introduced in Sweden in 2014: hen.
Egalia’s core mission is to treat gender like most schools treat race or religion — as a trait that stands outside students’ actual character and, therefore, isn’t something that needs to be discussed at school.
In that sense, Egalia, which opened in 2010, has a growing number of peers around the world, most notably the school districts in Vancouver, Canada, where gender-neutral pronouns like xe, xem, and xyr arrived last year. In favour of openness and tolerance, schools are foregoing typical labels that risk putting kids in boxes too early.
At Egalia, kids are kids, and nothing else.
“To be allowed to be as one wants without prejudice from other children or staff is paramount to us,” headmaster Lotta Rajalin tells Tech Insider. “We do not assume that children are a certain way based on their gender, age, origin, or way of dressing.”
The trend is an extension of Sweden’s ongoing efforts in gender equality.
Sweden consistently ranks at or near the top of the world’s most gender-neutral countries, according to the World Economic Forum.
The country grants both fathers and mothers up to 480 days of paid leave when a child is born or adopted, and any disparities in pay between men and women is typically explained by differences in job types, not discrimination, according to the WEF.
Radical as it may seem in the US — one of four countries without federal mandates for paid parental leave — Rajalin hopes her students grow up with even more equal ideals than Sweden currently has.
“It is important that the children learn the basis of democracy both in practice and theory in order to be good world citizens who do not discriminate,” she says. On a personal level as well, she wants kids feeling like they are part of a group, not outsiders. “A good self-belief is the basis for learning and development.”
In many ways, Egalia looks like every other preschool.
When kids aren’t not creating refrigerator-bound works of art, they’re playing outside, singing songs, and learning how to behave well with others. But they also don’t shy away from shirking traditionally “boyish” or “girly” activities.
“We want to give all children the same possibilities,” Rajalin says, “and not let their possibilities in life be confined by which sex, background, skin colour, religion, or disability they have.”
The world might not adopt Egalia’s genderless education system just yet, but we are getting a little more conscious of the fact that children learn social norms at a very young age, and language reinforces those norms.
The more conscious we can be of our language, the closer we’ll move toward becoming more compassionate people.
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