Sun, 2007-04-01

by Jarrod Booker

Maori are showing how New Zealand can improve its dire shortage of male teachers in early childhood education, says a world authority.

Less than 1 per cent of New Zealand’s teachers in early childcare centres are men, one of the lowest rates in the world, says Jan Peeters, co-ordinator of the Resource and Training Centre for Child Care at Belgium’s University of Ghent.

The sex abuse convictions of creche worker Peter Ellis 13 years ago still cast a long shadow over men in the industry and male teachers are often viewed as a risk to the toddlers they work with.

Those in the industry agree that children are missing out on male role models because of the lack of male teachers.

 

Mr Peeters, who has been in Christchurch for the Early Childhood Council’s annual conference, said New Zealand could eventually become a world leader in male participation in early education.

Kohanga reo had an astonishing level of men working at its centres.

“I am told it has achieved about 30 per cent of its teachers being male, with about half of these qualified and half in training,” Mr Peeters said.

“That would mean that in New Zealand you have an approach to attracting men that is world leading, that is worthy of international study.

“I am told that from day one kohanga reo encourage fathers to be involved with children at their centres, fathers are involved in managing the centres, and they recognise that Maori men have a special role with children that complements the role of women.

“They also recognise the importance of grandfathers, and encourage them to take an active role.”

Mr Peeters joined the Early Childhood Council, representing about 1000 childcare centres, and Education Minister Steve Maharey and other officials in a workshop on the male teacher shortage at the weekend.

“The workshop … was remarkable by world standards. You had senior people from Government, your universities, and your childcare centres all sitting around one table as equals and all focused on how to get more men into the sector, he said.

“It would not happen that way in most countries.”

According to the most recent figures, New Zealand has 13,609 women and 132 men working in its free kindergartens, childcare centres and in home-based care.

Since the early 1990s the percentage of men in the sector has fallen from 2 to less than 1 per cent.

Early Childhood Council chief executive Sue Thorne said the figures were “unacceptable”.

“I think there’s been enough talk about it, and the sector is ready to see action and to see results.”