New Zealand’s early childhood education system is one of the most sexist in the world with far too few men teaching in the sector and the Government has no immediate plans to correct the imbalance.
This does not surprise Dr Sarah Alexander whose Massey University research in 1997 first revealed problems for the early childhood education sector of men not being encouraged into teaching and supported to remain in teaching.
“Unfortunately our political leaders continue to fail when it comes to showing leadership on this matter. There seem to be closed minds on the issue of men being involved in early childhood teaching.”
Dr Alexander says that internationally NZ has one of the lowest rates of male teachers at just 2% and it has no policies or action plans in place to change the bias.
“It is a national disgrace.”
Dr Alexander who heads ChildForum, the nation-wide network for early childhood education, says there is absolutely no evidence that men can’t be as good teachers as women.
Sexist attitudes stem from traditional stereotypes that women’s role is with children, if not in the home then in the workplace – and such stereotypes are outdated.
The reasons for encouraging men to take up early childhood teaching as a career are the same as for encouraging women into traditionally male dominated occupations such as the navy and why for example, the National Party has a women’s caucus, Dr Alexander says.
“Workplaces should reflect the composition of NZ society and women and men each make up about half the population.
“There are also benefits to any organisation that promotes gender equity, such as bringing in other perspectives and providing opportunities for people to participate in work in which they can achieve their full potential.”
Even before they start their formal education nearly all children are being taught by our education system that working with young children is women’s work – this is what they see and this is what they learn in ECE, says Dr Alexander.
And it is a major reason why political leaders should take interest.
“Government apathy towards this problem is also very telling with the Minister of Education declining an invitation to address the Men in Early Childhood Education National Summit being held this week in Wellington.”
The national summit to discuss issues and action on the low representation of men in the early childhood education workforce is being held on 7th and 8th March in central Wellington.
Speaking at the Summit is Graham Stoop (Ministry of Education Deputy Secretary, Graduate Achievement, Vocations and Careers), Jackie Blue (Equal Opportunities Employment Commissioner), Chris Hipkins (Labour's education spokesman), Bev Cassidy-Mackenzie (Equal Employment Opportunities Trust), Dr Sarah Alexander (head of ChildForum and internationally recognised researcher on Men in ECE) , and Andrew Morrison (Ministry of Education).
Presentations are also being given by ECE service owners and teachers. James Lochead-Macmillan is providing a session on incorporating science exploration into the early childhood programme. Bryan Salisbury will be talking about setting up an ECE service on 'the smell of an oily rag' and why and how men teachers can aspire to take up leadership roles and open their own centre. Stuart Miller will provide a personal account of his journey to becoming a registered teacher and the negative and positives sides of this and what might have helped him better and could be done to encourage more men into teaching.