Lately, the field of Early Childhood Education (ECE) has been widely debated in Austria. Raising requirements for Early Childhood Educators to the tertiary level, making a Bache-lor’s degree mandatory, is one of the major issues. Another issue gaining a lot of attention is last year’s decision by several Austrian provinces to keep pre-school year free of charge. In parallel, the importance of men in Early Childhood Education is increasingly acknowledged in public and gives new impetus to the field.
Early Childhood Educators (ECE)
420 students from the 26 Austrian ECE training schools (Bildungsanstalten für Kindergar-tenpädagogik) participated in a paper-and-pencil survey. Nearly all of the male students joined in, as well as a control group of female students. Statistical analysis is on its way. In addition, about 20 students from all over the country were interviewed in-depth.
Most male students seem comfortable with their training. But research shows “male” wishes and interests to be somewhat neglected in school, e.g. playing football in physical education class. Some findings support the assumption that males are more interested in sports and physical interactions with children, in general. Also, boys sometimes take things easier compared to their female colleagues (e.g. exact preparation for the kindergarten programs). Boys and girls agree having both sexes in class to be positive.
One result stands out and raises questions. Though most students have a positive opinion about their school, only a few intend to work in kindergarten after graduation. A question-ing of graduates confirms the result – only 3 out of about 50 graduates were actually work-ing in kindergarten.
Men Working in Early Childhood Education (ECE)
Currently, a paper-and-pencil survey of all men working in ECE institutions in Austria is under way. To search for the male workers was complicated and time-consuming. Thanks to public and private institutions, we finally found 260 kindergarten schools with male col-leagues. All male workers (trained professionals, assistants) and a large female sample were included in the survey. In addition, more than 30 in-depth-interviews have been con-ducted so far.
We found committed male educators and caretakers all over the country. Some have been working in ECE for many years. Others support local initiatives for the further development of Early Childhood Education. Some graduated from the standard 5-year secondary school for ECE. Others entered the field later on in life, participating in programs especially de-signed for adult and external students. Another group found its way into more alternative settings (Kindergruppen). Many of our interview partners had former careers, e.g. as a mechanic, a truck driver, a baker, a lawyer, or a businessman.
We found teams with two women and two men (not just one or none) working together and even teams with more males than females – and everyone, including the parents, feeling at ease with it. At Vienna City Council, we heard about regular meetings of male ECE workers, an opportunity being established eight years ago, with up to 40 colleagues joining group meetings.
Although most interview partners clearly support the idea of more men working in ECE, many of them were trying hard to explain why males are important. Especially men had difficulties specifying a positive meaning of masculinity. Traditional masculinity is “out”, at least in the ECE field, but an image of positive male identity is not yet established. Looking for a ‘male approach’ or a ‘male way’ of working with children seems to be a promising but at the same time sensitive topic.
The personal perspectives of men are connected to general developments in the field of ECE. In Austria, compared to some other European countries, standards of ECE training are lower and general working conditions are less attractive. Higher payment and better general conditions for ECE institutions are basic requirements for motivating qualified professionals, male and female alike, to enter and stay in the field.
Research and Practice: National and International Exchange
First findings were presented on an Austrian research symposium on care (Who Cares?), which was conducted by the gender research platform of Innsbruck University in May this year. In August 2009, we will take part in a symposium on men in ECE on the EECERA conference (European Early Childhood Education Research Association) in Strasbourg, France (http://www.lefuret.org/19th%20EECERA/Accueil_19th_eecera.html).
In October 2009, we will join the second nationwide German conference on men in ECE in Hannover, Northern Germany (http://www.maennerinkitas.de).
We are especially pleased by the interest in our research within the field of vocational training in Austria. In October 2009, the project staff will present first results and strategies in a nationwide training for teachers and administrative officials of ECE schools in Austria.
We will invite to a final conference in June 2010 in Innsbruck. There, the results of our research project will be presented. Workshops for the diverse target groups will allow for discussions. The conference language will be German. You can find more information (in German) on our homepage (http://www.uibk.ac.at/ezwi/elementar/home/fachtagung2010/).
Change in Staff
We have two new members in our team: Mag. Gabriele Schauer, a trained ECE worker with a Diploma in Educational Sciences, is working on her thesis (Ph.D.) on the view of parents on male ECE workers. And Mag. Tessa-Katrin Zeis, a psychotherapist/ psycho-analyst and trainer, also with a Diploma in Educational Sciences, will mainly take part in qualitative research. Mag. Claudia Schwaizer has left the project.