male early childhood educators

We take a deep dive into the complex issue of male educators in early childcare

Our January blog post asking why there’s a shortage of male early childhood educators in Australia generated huge social media engagement, so we’re following up the issue with a global focus. And we’re updating you on the fledgling Australian Association for Men in Early Childhood (AAMEC) that’s just three months old [as at May 2018].

By the way, we’re packing a lot into this article. We’ll take you through insights from our interviews, solid online research into public domain sites and key findings on the issue from not-so-easy-to-access peer-reviewed journals.

Globally, male educators are scarce

Our first piece said men are the minority as educators in the early learning sector. It’s estimated globally they account for just 2% to 3% of educators and that figure has held for about the past three or so decades. Norway now nudges 10% and Germany is pushing into that space, too. So, first a look at what they’re doing to lift the rates.

Norway and Germany the shining light for male educators

Norway’s numbers may be skewed by a couple of reasons, says Dr. Martyn Mills-Bayne, lecturer in early childhood education at the University of South Australia.

“The inherent focus on gender equality across Norwegian culture/society, and a strong national focus on nature/outdoor play may explain the high number of men in early childhood.” However, it is worth noting that most men in Norwegian kindergartens work as assistants and not qualified teachers.

“Both Norway and Germany have had strong political support and campaigns behind it. I think it’s part of the way their societies work – it’s different,” he says.

Research shows that Norway has run possibly the world’s most comprehensive government-run campaign to recruit male educators from as early as 1996. Their goal of having one in five educators be male keeps getting bumped into the future though. They’re actually following the European Union’s policy which sets 2020 as the target date (updated from the initial date of 2006).

And there’s a greater participation rate of children, too. Since 2009, children aged over one have a formal right to attend kindergarten which means now about 80% of children attend full-time. Check out more about Norway and Germany in our ‘world round up’ section below.

Discrimination continues

Meanwhile, in New Zealand it’s an uphill battle to get the government interested in the issue despite the armed forces’ promising campaigns to lift female participation rate to 20%. Russell Ballantyne is the president for the peak group for male educators in that country, EC-Menz. By day, he’s a centre owner/teacher at Early Childhood on Stafford in Dunedin.

Men who work as educators “realise what a cool job it is and how important it is,” he says. They enjoy the freedom, have fun and get a living income. He’s known many who’ve taken to the sector as a career change.

Ballantyne suggests the sector can ‘invite’ more men in as simply as spelling out on job advertisements that “women and men are encouraged to apply.”

“Saying that the percentage of male educators in the whole world is low is a cop out. The government here has tried nothing and it’s really slow to respond to us,” says Ballantyne.

“I’ve been around for a long time. The trouble with our position is that if we’re a group of women fighting a gender disparity, we’d be given a lot more time, resources and people behind us. Because we’re men, we’re the advantaged many so we get very little time.”

male early childhood educators

Diversity push the way forward

Ballantyne’s organisation for male educators is actively “reshaping” its argument from gender balance to diversity.

“The discussion on gender is very fluid and gender is not binary. However, there’s a library of research and what we know without doubt about diverse workforces is they’re more effective. That makes us all stronger.”

He might just be onto something there. Gender is, after all, just one aspect of diversity.

It’s a stance echoed by Sid Mohandas, a UK Montessori practitioner who has a master’s degree in early childhood education.

Gender is complex

On the Male Montessorian website earlier this year, Mohandas says the “call for more men script” is greatly found lacking. He questions whether men and women possess “fixed qualities in relation to their biological make up.”

“[Fixed qualities] fail to account for the huge diversity of expressions that exist amongst men. By assigning certain attributes to the role of men in the early years, there is a risk of excluding marginally large numbers of men who do not neatly fit in those categories.” – Sid Mohandas

For example, working as a male educator he felt that others expected he take on the “role of a father in traditional patriarchy, where discourses of men as disciplinarians, sportsmen and decision makers were imposed on me.” Other times he was expected to become a leader or manager “because of my status as a male.”

“[I] suggest a moving away from simplistic binary discourses to engaging in alternate stories that take into consideration the complex, and multipicitous nature of gender and gender diversity.”

Another argument…that might surprise you

Give up the lobbying. That’s what Liam McNicholas, a Canberra-based educator who co-hosts the Early Educators Show, wants the early learning sector to do about male educators. In this opinion piece, he says discrimination against men in our sector is “part of wider discrimination against women.” He explains why he’s no longer advocating for men in the sector instead channelling his energies into “addressing the overwhelming, systemic and entrenched disadvantage of the incredible women in the early childhood sector and beyond.” You can follow him via Twitter.

McNicholas reminds us that elsewhere “being male immediately places us in a privileged position.” You can’t compare the experience of men in a female-dominated sector, such as education, to women in male-dominated sectors, he says.

“Women aren’t choosing to stay out of the senior executive, political and business worlds because they’re so low-status – entrenched hierarchies of powerful men exclude them because they want to hang on to their high-status positions,” he writes.

In his related podcast, McNicholas says despite few male educators, men represent more than half of leadership and top leadership roles in the sector.

He’s onto something there, but does it mean men should stop lobbying and advocating for greater representation in early learning?

Keeping up the fight for male educators

No, says Dr Martyn Mills-Bayne, lecturer in early childhood education at the University of South Australia (UniSA).

“I took offence to the line of reasoning taken by McNicholas here. It’s a poor analogy that the big issues in early childhood education such as appropriate pay or the rights of women mean we can’t be fighting some of the smaller issues with the same passion. Privilege comes in many forms and being aware of our unearned privileges means we can affect societal change through appropriate use of this power.

“You can advocate for more than one cause at a time, and while we should all be fighting for the status of early childhood educators, that does not mean the promotion of a more (gender) diverse workforce should be abandoned,” says Mills-Bayne. We need men on the floor working closely with children, not in leadership, operations or director positions, he adds.

“Perhaps we should be celebrating the huge figure of 46% of leadership positions in the sector being held by women. Compare that to everyone else.”

He cites the Workplace Gender Equality Agency [Feb 18], which says women make up just 16.5% of CEOS across all workplaces.

An early childhood leader at the South Australian Department of Education and Child Development, Steven Cameron, adds the “male discrimination is nothing compared to the discrimination that females receive.

“Discrimination is discrimination, and getting caught up in who is the most marginalised or discriminated against is not helpful in the conversation,” he says.

Men and women need to jointly address stereotypes, because that’s the only way to break through these barriers. In early childhood education, it is increasingly important as children are developing stereotypical views about their gender and what that represents from an early age, i.e. that’s a girl’s game, or those toys are only for boys.

“Children need to see men and women in roles that contradict the dominant discourses in society. Gender doesn’t define who we are.”

Australia’s fledgling association for male early childhood educators

Cameron, Mills-Bayne and Brett Gent have worked together to recently help set up a national association for male educators. (Dr Mills-Bayne’s MENtor Program at UniSA is ground-breaking in Australia for creating a network to support men studying early education and beginning their careers).

The Australian Association for Men in Early Childhood (AAMEC) formed in February and had its first annual general meeting on 1 May [2018].

“AAMEC is about celebrating high quality early childhood education and care, and highlighting the role of men within the field,” says Steven Cameron, AAMEC’s inaugural president

“We are really clear that it is not about striving for gender quotas. However we want to position early education and care as accessible to men as a career option. We want to support men to do that through our work.”

Mills-Bayne adds the organisation aims to position itself globally and has already forged strong links with the EC-Menz.

“One day we’ll look back on these moments and say how small we were then. Hopefully sometime in the future we’ll be looking at a slight increase in the number of men,” he says.

While peer-reviewed journals aren’t bursting at the seams with studies on male early childhood educators, there’s still some interesting insights from the few studies out there.

European Union: Policy is to have 20% male workforce in early education by 2020. However, that policy was set in 1996 with 2006 as the target date. Peeters says “several campaigns and interesting initiatives were set up and were successful in Denmark, Norway, Sweden, the UK and Belgium. But no European country has reached the target”. [Peeters, J, Including Men in Early Childhood Education: Insights from the European Experience]

Norway: This study looked at the extra pressure on “institutionalized norms and practice” that could happen with more male educators. Looking at a case study, it found even when there were no differences in task allocation between male and female educators the expectations between them were different.

“Men in contrast to women were expected to do practical tasks inside and around the building and engage in physical play with the children. Gendered expectations illustrate how gender divisions underpin professional practice and predominant thinking about gender,” the study says.

But men in the study didn’t see daily routines as important as women. Men wanted “less fixed routines and tasks in accordance to their interests and competence”. The researchers saw men’s need for flexibility as their working practice being associated “with the body”. While females’ need for a standardized workday was “linked to the mind”.

“This association between practice and gender infringes on a traditional assumption that the mind is male and the body is woman,” the researchers said.

“Studies reveal that it is not gender per se, rather staff attitudes and behaviour of childcare workers towards the children and their awareness and knowledge of the construction of gender, which contributes to gender construction.”

For the early learning sector to have a gender-neutral culture it doesn’t rely on achieving a gender balance. Rather it needs “reflexive gender practices,” the study found.

[Men in kindergartens: work culture and gender, Early Child Development and Care, 2016, Hege Eggen Børve Department of Business, Social and Environmental Sciences, Nord University, Levanger, Norway]

Denmark: This study looked at five recently completed projects, which the Danish Ministry for Children, Education and Gender Equality funded. The focus was to break down the gender-segregated labour market. One of its findings was that men applied and undertook bachelor degrees in early childhood, but “their careers run along other lines”. In fact, while men accounted for 28% of students, only 7% chose to work within the sector. Elsewhere in Denmark, the figure stands at between 3% and 10% depending on the type of facility where the male educators worked.

The study’s authors wrote that the sector held “very strong gender-associated expectations”.

“The really hard part … is it [is] necessary to argue with the colleagues and the parents, [and] the conflict includes one’s own anticipations, expectations and notions of men and women, boys and girls.”

It also quoted the Ministry for Gender Equality and Ecclesiastical Affairs calling for more diversity – hence “more male pedagogues” to work in nurseries and crèches. That 2015 report said this was important for the sake of the workplace, children, men and labour market.
[Wohlgemuth, U, Men in early childhood education and care: an uphill down dale endeavour, Gender Studies & Research, 2015, pp40-54]

Germany: A German government study found male educators in Kitas comprised just 2.4% of the workforce there. They “often feel out of place and alone among female educators” despite the studying proving unambiguously men were “valued as greatly enriching educational work”.

“Most male and female interviewees cite a large number of reasons for male educators being important. They consider it important for girls and boys to be cared for by both female and male educators and for children to see the most diverse possible range of men and women. Moreover, many parents expect male early childhood educators to provide a new impetus to the way they raise their children,” the study found.

Interestingly, the authors’ research found men entered the sector by “switching careers” and tended to perform “gender-typical activities such as manual trade work, sports and movement based activities.

And another point which no doubt happens elsewhere around the globe too and could make some educators feel a tad uncomfortable:

“Merely by their presence, [male educators] stand out from the majority of female trainees and colleagues. Their views, comments and behavioural patterns thereby have gender-loaded significance, along the lines of – ‘what have you got to say then, as a man?’,” the study says.

[Male educations in Kitas: A study on the situation of men in early childhood education, undated]

Ireland: Just one in 100 educators are men in Ireland – an “absent minority”, says Men in Childcare Ireland.

United States of America: Men account for just 2.5% of educators in the States and that’s been steady since 2007, according to this study. Zang quotes international research from 1999 suggesting that no single cause prevents men from working with children. He also points to several studies that how more male teachers doesn’t necessarily improve children’s performance.
“After all this research and promotion with little achievement, it is suggested that researchers should focus on different perspectives such as whether more men should be involved and why more men are needed,” Zang says.
[Zang, W, Male Teachers in Early Childhood Education: Why More Men. A Review of the Literature, St Could State University, 2017]

Turkey: In this study, female educators were more satisfied with wages, physical conditions, co-working status and organizational climate than their male peers. Male teachers of all ages were less satisfied about development and promotional opportunities than females aged 21 to 25. (Sahin, F & Sak, R, A Comparative Study of Male and Female Early Childhood Teachers’ Job Satisfaction in Turkey, Early Childhood Education Journal, Sept 2016, pp473-481).

China: Through semi-structured interviews, the researchers found it was generally parents, not most of the early staff, that had issues with male educators in China. The study’s authors called for changes in “deeply rooted institutional and management practices”, plus improving the professional status and career prospects of educators. [Do, D, Lam, H, A; A study of male participation in early childhood education: Perspectives of school stakeholders, International Journal of Educational Manager, 2014, Vol 28, Issue 5, pp498-509].

Jordan: This study sets the scene with male preschool teachers making up less than 1% of the cohort. Their female peers and mothers quizzed for the sample said male pre-schoolers were “acceptable” but they saw preschool teaching as female work. [Al-Zboon, E & Ahmad, J, Jordanian mothers’ and preschool teachers’ perceptions of men working in preschools, The Journal of Men’s Studies, 11/9/2017]

Israel: The sector reportedly has just 40 male early education teachers among 17,000 women. They tend to drop out because they feel isolated, says Dr David Brody, academic dean at Efrata College of Education in Jerusalem.

“These men are characterized by their relationship with children – they have an intense interest and focus on children. These guys are with the children all the time and are involved with them. They
promote higher order thinking, encourage risk-taking, and show bravado and care for the children,” he says.

New Zealand: According to EC-Menz, just 2.6% of educators are men. That’s been steady since 1983 when current EC-Menz president Russell Ballantyne entered the profession. It did dip to 2% in the 1990s, as a society-wide backlash to a male educator possibly being targeted, says Ballantyne. It’s an uphill battle to get the government interested in the issue despite the armed forces campaigns to lift female participation rate to 20%.

“I’ve been around for a long time,” he says. “The trouble with our position is that if we’re a group of women fighting a gender disparity, we’d would be given a lot more time, resources and people behind us. Because we’re men, we’re the advantaged many so we get very little time.”

Australian Association for Men in Early Childhood Facebook page
EC-Menz, the New Zealand based national network for men in early childhood education
Males in Early Childhood Education Facebook page
Male in Early Childhood blog

Community question: Should we globally give up the fight for more male educators to be part of the early learning sector?

Main photo courtesy of the University of South Australia’s mentor program for male educators in ECE.

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