Dr Farquhar - New Zealand

More men in the early childhood education sector would not only bring a range of benefits for children, but could also lift the quality of early childhood education, improve staff dynamics and encourage fathers to become more involved with their child’s education, a new survey shows.

A more diverse workforce, with men represented as well as women, is seen as being necessary to expand the quality of early childhood education for children and bring different viewpoints and ways of working to the ECE profession and the sector.

The ChildForum Early Childhood Network survey questioned hundreds of people involved with early childhood education services and teacher educators about whether they would like to see more men in the workplace and what benefits or disadvantages that could bring.

The survey was conducted over one week in August and received more than 800 responses.

ChildForum CEO Dr Sarah Farquhar says women dominate the childcare and early education sector in New Zealand with more than 98 percent of the early childhood education workforce being female.

“It would seem that society accepts the gender imbalance because the work involves being with young children” she says.

“The size of the early childhood sector and its workforce has grown exponentially over the past decade and early childhood teaching has become professionalised with more qualified early childhood staff, but no significant increase in male representation has occurred.”

The survey showed most respondents felt more men in early childhood teaching would benefit:

  • children’s access to male role models (96% respondents)
  • dad and male caregiver participation in their child’s ECE programme (85% respondents)
  • children’s behaviour and social skills (78% respondents)
  • children’s physical skills and development (78% respondents)
  • staff relationships/team dynamics (70% respondents)
  • the social status of early childhood work (64% respondents)

Around half of the respondents (47%) felt that parents would place a higher value on early childhood education if more men were involved while only 11% felt that parents would see an ECE service as a less safe place for children if men were employed.

Dr Farquhar says the results go against suggestions that ECE services feel they should not support men as teachers because it would be unsafe for children.

“In fact from what some respondents said it could have quite the opposite effect of making children safer through a heightened sense of the importance of ensuring safety and normalising the involvement of men in teaching”, she says.

The majority of respondents (64%) would like to see the Government play an active role, in some way to challenge the persistent gender imbalance in the ECE workforce although others felt it was the responsibility of ECE services and training organisations or even men themselves to take the initiative.

Dr Farquhar says despite being a country that is recognised internationally as being at the forefront of gender equality in other areas, there have been no sustained initiatives to address the gender imbalance in the ECE sector.

However, the survey feedback provides a clear message that the Government must act to address this issue.

Many respondents felt the lack of men in ECE was a social issue that needed to be dealt with in the same pro-active way as some other gender inequalities such as the need for more women in Parliament or in professions such as law and medicine.

“The results suggest that while individual services and training organisations can, if they wish, go some way to making the sector more attractive to men, to achieve any significant increases a wider more prominent campaign or policy push is probably needed”, says Dr Farquhar.

While many felt the Government should act on the issue there was some concern about impacts on women in the sector and whether it could take spending away from other areas in ECE.

Some said there might be fewer employment opportunities for women, that men might get special treatment or be given better jobs, and that men who had not proven themselves capable of basic care-giving might be accepted into the profession.

A range of suggestions on how more men could be encouraged were put forward, including scholarships, media campaigns, incentive grants to ECE services, setting performance indicators for male employment, and helping to make ECE teaching an attractive career option.

Further surveys on this issue could gauge whether parents would support more men in ECE and the support among MPs and government officials, Dr Farquhar says.