Creative engagement for more gender equity and diversity in education

Where are the women? The fact that women are often not included in school curricula is not without consequences: It strongly maintains gender inequality in society. Based on extensive research and interviews with educational experts, Giulia Ferla developed a pedagogical tool for teachers as part of her master's thesis. Here she reports on how she came to deal with this highly relevant topic and how she benefits from her studies at HMKW.

Giulia Ferla recently graduated from M.A. Communication Design and Creative Strategies.

Giulia Ferla recently graduated from M.A. Communication Design and Creative Strategies.

Why did you decide to study “Communication Design and Creative Strategies” at HMKW Berlin?

After graduating from art school in Switzerland (ECAL), I went to London for an internship at Atelier Dyakova, which was a great experience. As Berlin has been a special place for me I wanted to settle there for a while.

My previous studies in graphic design and photography provided me with great technical, artistic and critical thinking skills. That’s why I was more interested in learning and improving strategic, analytical and research competences. To think of my projects in terms of tools and solutions within existing ecosystems rather than merely aesthetic and/or isolated items.

What did you like the most about your studies/the study program in general? And what was the biggest challenge during your studies?

I enjoyed the mix of personal and client-related projects as well as the elective courses like Media Law and Media Psychology. Despite being enrolled in the full-time program, I could explore, read a lot and enjoy what Berlin has to offer. This precious time is what we usually lack in life, when it is so necessary for creativity and self-education.

The biggest challenge was certainly related to full distance learning during my first year because of Covid. Being on the computer all day is tedious. The dynamics, energy and spontaneity of relationships are not the same, in addition to being highly limited.


Please tell us more about your master thesis: What was your topic and how did you discover it?

The subject of my thesis is partly rooted in my experience of school. Which I realized much later, was not just a coincidence and definitely not individual.

Access to education is a human right for which women have had to fight (and still do in some countries). Thanks to feminist struggles, I had the chance to study until higher education and acquire a lot of knowledge. But here’s the deal: this particular knowledge was occulting others. What I learned was presented as neutral – even universal – narratives, when in fact it was an exclusively male, European/androcentric and heteronormative perspective on the world and history.

Women (and their work, experiences, contributions…) remain largely under-represented (when they are not just completely absent) in all school disciplines while “sensible” topics such as sexism, racism and climate crisis are being silenced. 

This fact is not insignificant: knowledge is a huge part of power and school is a place of knowledge which does not empower everyone equally. The representations and values it conveys determine the roles and relationships between women and men in society. In this sense, teaching becomes political.

That being said, despite years of studies, analyses, research, expert opinions and many proposals for solutions (often by women), the gap remains huge between policies aimed at gender equality in education and the concrete implementation of pedagogies that are supposed to enable it.

In theory, the teaching profession should be in a constant process of evolution and thus adaptation, but in practice the reality is quite different: teaching tools, materials and trainings are lagging behind.

Addressing these gaps is a major challenge as tackling (or not tackling) gender inequality is a choice for the future (or its renunciation). And this can only be waged through the demasculinization, democratization and diversification of knowledge.

Looking at different existing contexts, the theoretical part of my thesis highlights how gender, race and class inequality are systemic, systematic and often intertwined. The voices of many women (writers, philosophers, researchers, journalists, artists, etc.), past and present, shed light on this broad overview. The paradoxical role of the school, both as a potential agent of change and as an accomplice of a patriarchal and capitalist system, forms the common thread leading to my practical project.

Based on extensive questionnaires and individual interviews with education professionals, I have developed an ambitious pedagogical tool. It consists of an evolutive platform intended firstly for teachers and subsequently for students. It aims to rebalance the educational curriculum by facilitating access to resources, both challenging and complementing current dominant knowledge. It would also connect teachers and experts, regardless of their location, through spaces designed for inspiration, collaboration and action.



In your opinion, from which experiences/courses/projects during your studies will you benefit the most in your future career?

One thing that really shifted my perspective and understanding of the possible role of a designer was the Human Centered Design course led by Regina Hanke. This class met my expectations in terms of challenge, demands and quality, both in the results and the creative process.

I developed a project based on a very complex social theme: daily life racism. By carrying out extensive research, I learned to forget aesthetics and even more to trade my designer's role to become a detective, researcher, interviewer... I had to constantly question my assumptions and refute or confirm them by going closer to the field, to reality. It was exciting because challenging.

This experience comforted me in the fact that being a designer does not end with working on a computer. I was seriously starting to lose confidence in this profession, feeling trapped in digital technology and therefore with a constant feeling of being useless and disconnected from reality. However, overcoming this is only possible through a sincere commitment, that is, going to meet your audience and doing a real work of understanding, empathy and research. I now implement many of the methodological approaches from this course in my practice.

How do you get inspired? And what inspires you the most?

I spend hours walking outside. Without any purpose. Getting lost in spaces, those of the city and of my head. It is my way of processing information, of ordering words, thoughts and ideas, of making plans and decisions. Moving my body triggers these gymnastics of the mind which is the essential point of my creative process.

For this, I am inevitably inspired by what surrounds me, by what I see without necessarily seeing it. But it kind of lies sleeping in the back of my head and eventually pops out later.

Otherwise, I’d say mainly books, podcasts, music and theatre.



What are your plans for the future?

For the immediate future, I am working on the development and implementation of my educational tool in Switzerland. It requires a lot of patience and perseverance but I am convinced of the importance and potential of this project. Teachers remain my best allies since it is them and only through close collaboration with them that this tool will reach its fullest potential and significance.

Parallel to that, I’d like to explore new places, cultures, practices and mediums. Getting out of my comfort zone enhances my creativity and keeps me motivated.

However, making long-term plans is difficult; I am very aware and thus concerned by what is happening in the world. It is no longer a question of being optimistic vs pessimistic, but realistic. With the climate crisis, the rise of far-right extremism and the war in Ukraine, things will only get worse. We live in a society that has lost its solidarity. And yet a global force is necessary to save ourselves. For this, I want to invest myself in projects dedicated to culture, education and activism. At some point I may take a break. Go back into the wild, hike and explore with my tent as I love doing. We are raised to fear failure and reassessment. Of the unknown and the unbalanced. Yet quitting is sometimes the strongest action one can take to open up new horizons.

Thank you very much for the interview and the fascinating insights. All the best to you!