Early childhood centres 'need more men'

LUCY TOWNEND
Last updated 08:01 10/01/2014
Robert Jensen
DAVID UNWIN/FAIRFAX NZ

MALE INFLUENCE: Tui Early Learners teacher Robert Jensen hosts a tea party with four-year-old Zena Khieokaew.

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Men are missing from early childhood centres at a time when male role models are more important than ever in modern society, education experts say.

Single mothers, absent fathers and blended families are becoming more common and the low numbers of men teaching in kindergartens, creches and kohanga is having an effect on Kiwi children later in life, according to education experts.

In New Zealand, early childhood education is traditionally a female-dominated sector where men make up just 2 per cent of the work force, according to government figures.

The latest Annual Census of Early Childhood Education Services figures, released by the Ministry of Education, show there were 486 male teachers working with 21,707 female teachers last year - this equates to one man to every 45 women.

In Manawatu/Whanganui only 19 of the 1201 early childhood teachers working were male, which is a 1 to 63 ratio.

This is having an effect on children's development, relationship building and childhood obesity.

Palmerston North's Tui Early Learners Childcare Centre teacher Robert Jensen said that, with more varied family dynamics, men needed to play an influential role in a child's early years.

"I grew up in a house with women and only one silent male, my grandfather, in the background who was away all the time working tirelessly.

"I think that equity and being able to have a range of people teaching [nowadays] is important and I definitely see it being more important for the older children."

Massey University Professor of Childhood Education, Claire McLachlan, said it was vital for children to have a range of role models of both genders.

"Arguably it is even more important for boys, who typically encounter a steady diet of female teachers until they hit high school."

Evidence showed male teachers engaged in more physical activity with children, causing flow-on health effects, she said.

"[This] has to be a good thing in the face of an epidemic of childhood obesity and evidence of obesity in children as young as 2 years."

But attracting men to train as early childhood education teachers was a challenge due to policy makers' and society's perception of the profession, NZEI Te Riu Roa national secretary Paul Goulter said.

People often associated a career in early childhood education as "women's work", with the Government also lowering the value of the sector's skills by slashing funding of qualified teachers in childcare centres by 20 per cent last year, Mr Goulter said.

Manawatu educators have attributed the lack of male teachers to the requirements of training, poor career progression opportunities, pay parity within the sector and the demanding nature of working with young children.

The Ruahine Kindergarten Association has two men in a pool of about 150 early childhood teachers working in the association's 25 centres.

General manager Alison Rudzki said early childhood was probably not a career choice on men's radars, but it needed to be.

"Unfortunately, I think society often views men with suspicion when they show an interest in working with children - which is very unfair.

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"In reality, there are a lot of children who are in desperate need of a male role model, especially boys, and male kindergarten teachers can bring a different perspective to teaching and learning."

Lobby group Child Forum, alongside EC Menz, a group for men working in the sector, found overwhelming public support for having more men in the sector in a survey of 800 people last year - 96 per cent of respondents agreed there was a need for greater access to male role models in early years childcare.

- Manawatu Standard

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