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Fixes for the gender imbalance, assuming it’s a problem

While feminists are campaigning for quotas for women in government and business, they are unlikely to bother with this issue in early childhood education.

Women dominate the sector; only 6 per cent of workers are male, the 2013 National Early Childhood Education and Care Workforce Census states.

At the University of South Australia, recently released student figures show male enrolment is  even lower than this national workplace average: only 4 per cent of UniSA’s early childhood education students are male.

UniSA early childhood education lecturer Martyn Mills-Bayne takes issue with this, telling the ABC today that this causes young children to miss out on “…a diverse teaching experience…[which]…allows them to see complex relationships in classrooms and beyond”.

The South Australian Government seems to agree with Mills-Bayne. In 2009, it commissioned a report that raised this issue. But is it a genuine cause for concern?

Unfortunately, there is a dearth of research on the subject, although there are several hypotheses.

Jennifer Sumsion, in a 2005 article titled “Male teachers in early childhood education: issues and case study” published in the journal Early Childhood Research Quarterly, outlines three of them. “One argument…is that men are needed in early childhood education to provide positive male figures,” she wrote.

Judy Kynaston, general manager at Early Childhood Australia, supports this theory. “We do have quite a significant proportion of single-parent families [in Australia] … They may not have particular male role models within their family unit, so certainly it would be useful to have a balance [of male and female early childhood educators],” Kynaston said.

Another claim Sumsion documented states that a larger male presence is essential to challenging gender stereotypes. Thirdly, some argue that with more males in the profession its status will be enhanced and inter-workplace relations will improve.

Assuming these claims have some validity, what are the roadblocks to men entering early childhood education?

Mills-Bayne cited fears of impropriety, along with gender norms – specifically, the role of the woman as primary nurturer – as major impediments.

Yarrow Andrew, a male early childcare worker, lends support to these views. Writing in Early Childhood Australia’s Every Child magazine, he noted that he was hyper aware of his physical contact with children and how this would be perceived. By contrast, female teachers “were even able to joke about the younger children who would put their hands down their shirts and touch their breasts”.

Andrew added that colleagues constantly questioned why he wanted to perform a traditionally female role. This is despite evidence Sumsion provided that children do not appear to judge their teachers on a gender-related basis.

Given the sizeable obstacles to males entering the profession, how can the gender balance called for by Early Childhood Australia be achieved?

Kynaston cited pay as an area worthy of reconsideration. “Early childhood educators get paid less than primary and high school teachers and educators,” she explained. This leads “to men not seeing it as viable profession”.

She also acknowledged that community misconceptions about male early education teachers as predatory must be challenged. “Child protection policies and procedures that should be in any early childhood education service … should be there for both males and females,” she said.

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  1. “While feminists are campaigning for quotas for women in government and business, they are unlikely to bother with this issue in early childhood education”

    Why are they unlikely to bother? Surely imbalance works both ways?

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