How do you describe yourself? Changing the way we ask about gender

How do you describe yourself?

Changing the way the MDI asks about gender

Since the initial pilot of the Middle Years Development Instrument, the demographics section has asked students answering the survey to answer the question: “Are you a boy or a girl?”

By 2016, it had become quite clear that this gender question needed to be reconsidered. Legislation has changed to recognize a wider gender identity as included in human rights codes, and school board policies across Canada have been updated to provide thoughtful and inclusive accommodations for transgendered and gender non-conforming students and staff. Awareness, classroom resources and teaching practices have continued to change to respond to a broadened understanding of gender identity, with the aim of creating safe, inclusive spaces in which all students can focus on their learning.

HELP has spent 2017 examining this question internally, reviewing the research on writing survey questions about gender identity, communicating with experts, and piloting an open-text box gender question with students as part of our MDI work with the Chignecto-Central Regional School Board in Nova Scotia. I am excited to share that we have now updated the MDI gender question in an effort to be on the leading edge of research about child and adolescent social and emotional well-being, and in response to the detailed and considered feedback we received from educators across the country. But most importantly, we have updated this question to ensure that the MDI stands by its founding principles of enabling children to tell us about their own lives and experiences, from their own perspectives and in their own voices. This update truly honors children’s voices and their identities.

I am proud of the work and effort that contributed to this change, and send a heartfelt thank you to everyone who was a part of this process. Whether you mentioned your concerns to a HELP staff member while implementing the survey, or shared your experiences more formally as part of this review process, please know that your feedback was greatly appreciated.

We have compiled some Frequently Asked Questions about this change below, and have documented the change process here. Please don’t hesitate to contact us directly if you have any questions that aren’t answered in these materials.


Kim Schonert-Reichl
Director, HELP

Frequently Asked Questions