NZ Police heads towards gender balance while the Ministry of Education holds on to sex-role stereotypes for early childhood educ

by Dr Sarah Alexander - Child Forum

New Zealand Police attempts to recruit more women have been successful and rewarded.

In 2012 just 24 per cent of new police recruits across the country were women, but last year that number jumped to nearly 36 per cent thanks to new programmes targeted specifically at females.

For police to have the trust and confidence of the community they must be representative of the people they serve, they believe.

"It's no simple task to change the culture of a large organisation, especially when you're dealing with an issue that has been impacting the workforce for a long period of time," said Diversity Works NZ chief executive Bev Cassidy-Mackenzie (NZ newswire story)

Meanwhile Early Childhood Education remains one of the last bastions of occupational sexism as the Government and Ministry of Education sit on their hands and deny the importance of gender balance and the benefits this would bring for children, women and NZ society. Early childhood teaching is a 'pink' profession with 98% of the workforce being female and only 2% male.  

At a national symposium on Men in Early Childhood Education held last week in Wellington early childhood teaching and learning expert and CEO of ChildForum Dr Sarah Alexander spoke of the need for change.

“Every day there are more than 200,000 children enrolled at ECE services across the country, with around 3,000 more boys than girls enrolled. Many of these children will be cared for and taught by women only but how does this affect the way children see the roles of men and women and their own later life and career choices?

Inclusive early childhood education environments are key to the provision of quality of care and effective teaching. I have no doubt that achieving a gender balance in the early childhood education workforce is important for children,” said Dr Alexander.

Dr Alexander mentioned the different reactions of the NZ government and Norway to paedophilia hysteria that erupted in 1992-3, when in both countries only 2 per cent of the ECE workforce consisted of men. The percentage dropped to below 1 per cent in NZ as the government and ministry took no positive action, even when presented with evidence of male teachers being discriminated against and men being actively discouraged from considering a career in ECE. In contrast to NZ, the Norwegians began to actively recruit men into the field, heightening public awareness of the importance that men work with young children, and appealing to men to consider this as a career. The Norwegians positive approach led to a steady increase of men in ECE to 10 per cent in 2010.

The Minister of Education and a number of key education officials were invited to last week’s national symposium, however none attended.

The day following the symposium Dr Alexander and Dr David Brody (invited visiting expert from Israel) went to the Ministry of Education and met with a couple of the top officials. The meeting was positive and they showed an interest in learning at least a little about the huge body of research evidence and strategies used internationally by asking questions such as why it is important to have men working in the sector and strategies for recruitment. Both Dr Alexander and Dr Brody left the meeting with a feeling that perhaps there was a possibility, even a small possibility that the culture in this organisation might be at the edge of beginning to move.

But this week Dominion Post reporter Laura Dooney asked the Ministry about its position on diversity in the ECE teacher workforce and improving opportunities for children’s learning through gender balance.

The Ministry of Education's Lisa Rodgers, deputy secretary early learning and student achievement, said that the ministry was aware of a gender disparity in the sector but it was "focused on raising the quality of ECE through a range of strategies, and prioritised the quality of teaching rather than the gender of teachers". This does not quite make sense as the quality of teaching goes hand in hand with supporting diversity. As discussed by Dr Brody at last week's symposium men and women can both make good teachers. Men can teach effectively and bring different perspectives, experiences, and abilities to teaching and caring for young children.  

It looks like the Ministry of Education won’t be winning a Diversity award any time soon then.

Still let’s try to continue to remain optimistic that maybe the Ministry have a work project in train and will soon be paying attention to the evidence along with making use of the expertise we now have available in NZ and internationally, to develop policy on diversity and an action plan for change.

While:

  • the majority of those in the ECE sector are very supportive of gender diversity (nation-wide survey finding),
  • there is an active national support and lobby group representing male teachers in ECE (called EC-Menz),
  • 'invitation' scholarships for men taking up training to become qualified teachers were introduced by ChildForum as a way of putting out a welcoming mat and provide financial support toward study costs,
  • there is substantial evidence on the benefits of gender diversity in the ECE workforce and an extensive body of international knowledge on the kinds of strategies that work for attracting men into ECE work and supporting retention,
  • employers today are willing to consider male applicants and know that parents today are attracted to services that have male teachers, and the My ECE website for parents is now supporting parents to be informed of services that have male teachers and make an active choice to choose a service for their child that supports gender diversity

the problem is that efforts at grass-roots level to invite men into the sector are only able to make a small difference without Ministry of Education support and action. The ministry exerts considerable influence over teacher recruitment, funding, employment decisions, and curriculum.

"What we are doing at ChildForum, what EC-Menz is doing and what the sector and you may be doing helps but this can only just touch the surface without government initiatives and the Ministry of Education taking responsibility and showing leadership as the 2% statistic shows", said Dr Alexander at the Men Who Teach Young Children National Symposium.

August 25, 2016

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