Sexist Attitude in Early Education Management Must Change
The Education Ministry was well aware for at least 20 years on the need to recruit and retain male early childhood teachers, and it is shameful that it did not do anything about it.
Those at the coalface want men in teaching in early education and view any use of the old excuse of men as abusers as a cop out.
Leaders are calling for the new Minister of Education, Nikki Kaye and the Government to set a target of at least 5 percent male teachers in early childhood education by 2022 and for the ministry to take action to develop policy and strategy to achieve the target.
In 1997 a Massey University study by Dr Sarah Alexander on male kindergarten and childcare teachers made national headlines. The research highlighted the value for children’s learning of having both women and men teachers and the biases and problems that men as a group were facing in the women-dominated profession and in society as male teachers.
The consequence of the ministry’s failure to pick up the challenge put forward by that research and other studies is now showing, say sector leaders, but escaping accountability looks set to become more difficult in the future.
A change to the Education Act has introduced, as an enduring objective for the education system, “installing in children an appreciation of the importance of the diversity of society and the inclusion of different groups and persons with different personal characteristics”.
“Going forward, it will be interesting to see how the Ministry of Education will be able to make any claim about the early childhood sector successfully meeting the enduring objective, unless it excludes gender,” says ChildForum chief executive Dr Sarah Alexander.
Just 2 percent of NZ’s early childhood teachers are male - a figure Dr Alexander argues has not improved beyond the 2.3 percent in 1992 before a trend downward to as low as 1 percent in the immediate years following the Christchurch Civic Centre child abuse case, and shows up how persistent sexism in the education system is.
NZ is in the top half of the league table for OECD countries on the proportion of early childhood teachers who are female because other countries have social and educational policies that are much more gender aware – the Netherlands has 13 percent male early childhood teachers, Norway 9 percent, France 8 percent, Spain 7 percent, the USA 6 percent and even Australia is doing better at 3 percent.
The problem has its basis in unconscious bias, says Russell Ballantyne, president of the Men in Early Childhood NZ Association (EC-Menz).
“The question we need to be asking is: have education officials been trained in unconscious bias and if not why not, and why are they not requiring the same of those who go out recruiting teachers and appointing and managing teacher employment,” says Mr Ballantyne.
A nationwide survey of the early childhood sector by ChildForum in 2012 showed strong support for the Ministry of Education and the Government to act to increase the proportion of men in teaching.
The survey found that benefits of including men on the teaching staff included: giving children access to male role models, making dads feel more welcome to stay and be involved, improving staff dynamics by bringing in different viewpoints, and being better for children’s behaviour, social skills, and learning.
An OECD report on early childhood education released in June 2017 agrees. “A reinforced male presence is critical to counter traditional views of women in child-rearing positions, and to the extent that school and learning remain gender neutral,” says the international agency.
Mr Ballantyne also runs an early childhood centre in Dunedin with his wife Sue and currently 30 percent of his staff are male, showing that a gender balance is obtainable.
“Our centres should reflect society and our children should see both men and women working in every early childhood centre, that’s what we encourage.
“Children are thriving in their learning and parents are choosing our service because they know at our place children get the best of both the male and female world in all its diversity,” says Mr Ballantyne.
“There are many employers who are keen to have male staff but stumble when it comes to recruitment and are uncertain about managing the inclusion of male employees,” says Dr Alexander.
“NZ education officials need to be talking to us about how to improve the situation and the Government needs to set a target of at least 5 percent male early childhood teachers by 2022.
“We hope change begins before the end of the year and funding is announced by the Education Minister to meet the costs of necessary activities such as unconscious bias training for Ministry of Education staff and teacher educators, training workshops and support groups for employers, a promotional campaign, and a co-ordination service.
“The alternative is another 20 years of sexism in our early childhood education system which is not ideal for young children’s learning and socialisation,” says Dr Alexander.
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