1st Ecmenz Summit  2007

It was with great pleasure that I attended the Men’s Summit meeting in Christchurch on 29th March. The meeting was instigated by Russell Ballantyne and Sarah Farquhar shortly after a TV New Zealand documentary about the scarcity of males in early childhood education. The meeting was organized by Sarah Farquhar, the co-ordinator of the Child Forum Research Network and hosted by the Early Childhood Council. The rationale behind the Summit was to bring male teachers and students together and to generate interest and support for men entering early childhood education. Forty-five male and ten women early childhood educationalists from all over New Zealand came to voice their concerns and issues and to listen to guest speakers.

The Summit was opened by Russell Ballantyne and Sue Thorne, the CEO of the Early Childhood Council. The main resounding message from these two speakers was that the time for sitting back and viewing the grim statistics had passed and we now needed to be proactive in encouraging men into the field of early childhood education.

The speakers included Dr. Paul MaCalister from Victoria University, an ex-Play Centre parent, who discussed the need for fathers to be recognized more in public policy including paid parental leave that recognizes a father’s need to bond with children. He also addressed issues around child access as a result of separation and divorce. He suggested that males in New Zealand seemed to suffer from ‘collective guilt’ in relation to male issues in our society, but men now needed to promote themselves and work at addressing some of these issues. He also presented statistics that seemed to show that policy makers were not concerned with trends and imbalances that affected men, and suggested that when women are disadvantaged it is seen as the collective fault of society, but when men are disadvantaged it is the fault of the individual.

Craig Darcy from New South Wales talked about this experiences as a male Early Childhood ‘worker’ in Australia, drawing our attention to the recently formed men’s network and some of the advances that had been made to increase the quantity of men in early childhood education there. They had their first Summit meeting last year.

Dr. Sarah Farquhar showed us a number of media clips from TV items that portrayed men working in early childhood education. In the past, TV items have focused on the Peter Ellis case bringing an element of negativity to men working in early childhood. However, last year the first positive viewing of men in early childhood was presented to the public. In addition, she highlighted the idea that we need to focus more on the positive to encourage men to re-enter this exciting and nurturing role. Sarah also discussed the reasons for the lack of men in the New Zealand early childhood workforce and refuted a number of commonly cited reasons why males are largely absent from childcare training (for further information go to www.childforum.com).

Karl Le Quesne, Senior Manager-Policy-Ministry of Education was able to give some information on how the Ministry is planning to recruit more men in early childhood training and took note of suggestions from the floor. He also pointed out that the Ministry is currently involved in presenting a campaign to bring more men into early childhood education.

Toward the end of the afternoon we are able to brainstorm ideas and find solutions to increase male participation in early childhood education in smaller groups. The ideas from these groups are currently being collated and will be given to the Ministry of Education. In addition, we agreed that it was necessary for men working in early childhood and those in training to form national and regional networks. Some men in training talked about the pressures from family and friends to leave the field. It was therefore recognized that an important aspect of supporting men in early childhood education was to link up with each other through a national and regional men’s network. This network is being formed to enable men to give each other support, especially to those who are new to the field; to enable men to take a more active role in promoting public awareness around men working with young children; to enable men to share experiences and information; and to strengthen our feelings of unity as early childhood teachers in Aotearoa. The network was also seen as a viable means of lobbying the government to support men in early childhood education and to increase the numbers of men working with young children.

As the co-ordinator of this network for men in early childhood education, I am involved in creating regional network groups and a national emailing group so that men can meet together regularly and share information.

The very first

Men in Early Child Care and Teaching Summit

On 29th March an extraordinary event in education – a Summit on Men in Early Child Care and Teaching – was held in Christchurch. It was probably the first time that men outnumbered women at an early childhood meeting – and what a different atmosphere it was. Above is a photo from the event – a guys only shot.

Did you know that men now represent just less than 1% of the staff in teacher-staffed services? (Including kindergartens, childcare centres and home-based education coordinators). Parent-staffed services, like playcentres and kohanga reo are not so gendered.

The scarcity of males was highlighted by one male teacher from Gisborne who discovered at the Summit that there weren’t other males working in centres in his region.

If you are a woman in teaching, remember that kiwi men can nurture and care for young children and encourage the men you know to consider early childhood teaching as a career. Gender diversity is needed in our profession. Unfortunately men only see women working in early childhood services, and think there is no place for men. But men as well as women should have the wonderful opportunity to work with young children. Children need to have contact with men in their lives, especially in the early years. We can be telling men that:

“It is cool to be a man in early child care and teaching”.

Teacher-staffed early childhood services need to catch up with social change. Today more fathers engage in active parenting and almost all traditionally gendered occupations have changed or are changing to become more gender inclusive (with the exception of early childhood teaching and midwifery perhaps).

The downward trend in male participation rates in early childhood work has been known for at least a decade now, since research on male teacher’s experiences and views by Dr Sarah Farquhar was first published, and subsequent writings on practices of no-touch and sexism (go to www.childforum.com publications page for details of papers/reports). Support for the participation of men in early childhood care and teaching has not been shown in the language of education policy, education policy itself, and practices within teacher education and the sector (but wonderfully this all now looks set to change – see the end of this article).

The Childforum Research Network organised Men’s Summit served an important political purpose to generate interest in, and support for, getting more men into teaching and to provide a forum for male teachers and students from across the country to meet.

A package of materials including papers from the Summit will be put together and made available online at www.childforum.com by late May. If you would like to contribute a letter, message, article or your thoughts on the topic of male participation and representation in parent-staffed and teacher-staffed services please email your piece as soon as possible to sarah(at)childforum.com

As a result of the Summit, regional networks are being formed for male students and teachers working within early childhood services to stay-in-touch and provide support. If you are a male teacher working in a centre or home-based setting, email your contact details to the coordinator, Peter Visser p.visser(a)paradise.net.nz

The Summit received support from across the Sector. Principal sponsor was the Early Childhood Council, along with the NZ Kindergartens Inc. PORSE, and the Father and Child Society.

Many politicians were invited and nearly all declined or did not reply to their personal invite, including education and opposition education spokespeople. We were thrilled to receive support from Judy Turner M.P. (deputy leader of United Future) who attended. It was heartening to have Dr. Judy McGregor (Human Rights Commission), Lynley Hood (author), and Nicola Atwool (office of the Children’s Commissioner) participate in the Summit along with representatives from the Ministry of Education and TeachNZ, Barnardos, University of Canterbury, University of Victoria in Wellington, Open Polytechnic of NZ, Te Tari Puna ora o Aotearoa, AUT, University of Auckland, ERO, NZEI Te Riu Roa  and Vision College.

Exciting!