As one of a small group of invited experts from around the world, Dr Sarah Alexander represented NZ at the International Conference "Men in Early Childhood Education and Care" held in Berlin in September 2012.
The international conference was organised by the Koordinationstelle Männer in Kitas with funding from the German Federal Ministry of Family Affairs.
Prior to the start of the conference the experts group was taken to visit a bilingual (German and English) kindergarten that is part of the Kinderwelt Hamburg chain of centres which employ 20% male educators.
A male educator described how they stayed away from gender stereotypes and what they as a team of educators were concerned about was what each person brought to the table - their skills and interests. Every teacher was recognised as having his or her own speciality. His speciality was construction and he liked to do building projects with the children. When asked why he stayed working at the kindergarten, the educator explained that it was because of support from the kindergarten boss. As a male educator he could fully participate, was valued for his contributions, and was always involved.
At the office of the Koordinationstelle Männer in Kitas Dr Alexander participated in a round-table discussion with other experts and programme leaders discussion about the ESF funded pilot programme "More Men in Kitas". Kitas are all day-care facilities for children too young to be at school.
Summaries of the main research presentations at the International Conference are available on ChildForum's website.
At the end of the first day Dr Alexander presented her insight and impressions from the first conference day.
When asked "what from your point of view, are the main strategies, measures, and projects that can be successful to get more men into the field of early childhood education and care?", Dr Alexander discussed the following:
- Having people who are interested and prepared to commit their time to advocacy, lobbying, and encouraging interest in the issues. These people also need to be able to persist in the face of opposition and comments that they are wasting their time.
- The willingness of women leaders in early childhood education and providers of early childhood service to involve men and invite men to participate in early childcare and education work.
- The importance of the presence of political will for change - for example for legislators to be able to see that equal employment opportunity policies should extend to men in the childcare sector.
- The value of publicity campaigns to change the public mindset about men and children and to see that children need men. Publicity campaigns can show early childcare and teaching work as a valid career option for men, reverse the negative image of men in early childcare as potential child abusers, and highlight examples how the involvement of men is good for children and good for the quality of the early childhood sector.
To keep men involved in early childhood education and not have a high drop out rate Dr Alexander talked about the value of having a support network for male educators - such as the one in NZ - that enables men to meet other men doing similar work, ask questions, and swap stories.
An obstacle for men themselves was the dichotomy of becoming involved in early childcare which is seen as a feminine activity while also meeting expectations to be different. The idea of a caring masculinity(ies) is quite new.
Asked what she will take back and do in NZ after the conference, Dr Alexander replied "Disseminate and share the material and ideas presented here".
She also added, "we have to say more loudly in NZ that having a very small percentage of educators who are men is simply not good enough in our country and is shameful considering especially the efforts here in Germany and in other countries internationally".