Spring 2010: Recent News
In Austria, public debate about Early Childhood Education and Care continues. Plans to offer at least the last year of pre-school education free of charge, as well as steps to raise vocational education from secondary to tertiary level, are in broad discussion now.
Our research confirms the importance of looking at and discussing men in terms of gender. Although poor income situation and low educational level of ECE workers are vital problems to be addressed, the issue of “gender culture” has to be targeted alike. The “feminine” culture of kindergarten as well as of vocational schools in this field has to assimilate and integrate more “masculine” aspects of educational properties and intentions, e.g. outdoor activities and sports. As the most important single issue to be tackled, men and women agree on the necessity of generally enhancing the standing of Early Childhood Education and Care in society.
Boys and girls in vocational training for ECE
420 students from the 26 Austrian ECE training schools (Bildungsanstalten fur Kindergarten- padagogik) participated in a paper-and-pencil survey. Nearly all of the male students joined in, as well as a comparison group of female students. In addition, about 20 students from all Austrian provinces were interviewed in-depth. The interviews gave important insights into the situation at the schools, and the analyses show possible steps to make the profession more attractive for boys (and girls). These steps include having more male trainers or mentors serve as male role models and promoting the acceptance of more “masculine” aspects in school curricula and in practice. Generally, it is necessary to work on the standards of the Austrian ECE vocational system, possibly by raising it to the tertiary level.
Men and women working in Early Childhood Education
Our survey of about 250 male and female workers clearly confronts stereotypes that mark men working in kindergarten as somewhat “strange”. Many of the men had worked in male- dominated professions for years before changing profession. “Having fun in working with kids” and looking for “a job with meaning” led to their decision to work in the field of Early Childhood Education and Care. Representing a variety of professional backgrounds, men contribute to the diversity of ECE as they enter the field.
Although there are a lot of similarities between men and women, it seems that men have a slightly different approach to children. Especially women are stating that men may enrich team culture and overall climate in kindergarten.
49 in-depth-interviews with male and female workers give a lot of material for deeper exploration. Content analysis is under way. First results support previous research findings on men in ECE and contribute to a more differentiated view. To give an example, the interview partners – male and female – agree that income in ECE is much too low. Nevertheless, many and especially young men get along with their income pretty well. The lack of career perspectives in the long run seems to be the bigger issue.
Another result of our research shows that the general suspicion of male teachers being possi- ble abusers is a major problem. Although it is accepted that fathers take part in parenting and thus, for instance, change their children’s nappy, this does not apply to male caretakers. It is a subject-matter mostly tabooed and not openly discussed. Male workers should not be left without support while having to cope with this problem. It is necessary to discuss it with female colleagues as well as with parents.
A small number of interviews are analyzed by using a psychoanalytic approach and focusing on biography, self-images and masculine identity of male workers. The interviews are discussed in group in order to secure inter-rater-validity. So far, the team focused on parent-child-relationships, the quality of mother-child-bonding, the role of fathers, the significance of absent fathers, critical life events and traumata, family concepts of male teachers, the kindergarten as a “female work place” and the way men cope with the dominance of women in the field.
From research to practice
Public interest in our research project led to contacts with initiatives and institutions responsi- ble for policy making, public administration, education and vocational training on provincial and state level.
In Tyrol, we take part in conceptualizing a tertiary level on-the-job-training for ECE workers. On national scale, we cooperate with “Platform educare”, an initiative on Early Childhood Education (and Non-School Related Education) which is strongly promoting fundamental ref- ormation of the vocational system for ECE in Austria.
In October 2009, first results of the research project were discussed on a nationwide confer- ence with teachers at vocational schools. The teachers were especially fond of participating in an ongoing research process.
International Research Exchange
The continuing international exchange on men in ECE is of particular importance. In February 2010, on a meeting of the European research network ,Knowledge on Men in Early Childhood Education and Care”, we developed topics and strategies for further research collaboration.
This summer, the topics will be presented on two international conferences for Early Childhood Education and Care, the OMEP in Goteborg and the EECERA in Birmingham. Researchers from at least six countries, including elementar, will present results of their research as well as concluding strategies.
We are looking forward to discuss our research findings with experts from politics, administra- tion, vocational schools, practice and research on our closing conference in Innsbruck, on June 11 and 12 this year. The conference language will be German. You can find information about the conference here: http://www.uibk.ac.at/ezwi/elementar/home/fachtagung2010/