Sexist Attitude in Early Education Management Must Change
Press Release: ChildForum and EC-Menz Association
Monday 24th July 2017
The Education Ministry was well aware for at least 20 years on the need to recruit and retain male early childhood
teachers, and it is shameful that it did not do anything about it.
Those at the coalface want men in teaching in early education and view any use of the old excuse of men as abusers as a
Leaders are calling for the Government to set a target of at least 5 percent male teachers in early childhood education
by 2022 and for the ministry to take action to develop policy and strategy to achieve the target.
In 1997, a Massey University study by Dr Sarah Alexander on male kindergarten and childcare teachers made national
headlines. The research highlighted the value for children’s learning of having both women and men teachers and the
biases and problems that men as a group were facing in the women-dominated profession and in society as male teachers.
The consequence of the ministry’s failure to pick up the challenge put forward by that research and other studies is now
showing, say sector leaders, but escaping accountability looks set to become more difficult in the future.
A change to the Education Act has introduced, as an enduring objective for the education system, “installing in children
an appreciation of the importance of the diversity of society and the inclusion of different groups and persons with
different personal characteristics”.
“Going forward, it will be interesting to see how the Ministry of Education will be able to make any claim about the
early childhood sector successfully meeting the enduring objective, unless it excludes gender,” says ChildForum chief
executive Dr Sarah Alexander.
Just 2 percent of NZ’s early childhood teachers are male - a figure Dr Alexander argues has not improved beyond the 2.3
percent in 1992 before a trend downward to as low as 1 percent in the immediate years following the Christchurch Civic
Centre child abuse case, and shows up how persistent sexism in the education system is.
NZ is in the top half of the league table for OECD countries on the proportion of early childhood teachers who are
female because other countries have social and educational policies that are much more gender aware – the Netherlands
has 13 percent male early childhood teachers, Norway 9 percent, France 8 percent, Spain 7 percent, the USA 6 percent and
even Australia is doing better at 3 percent.
The problem has its basis in unconscious bias, says Russell Ballantyne, president of the Men in Early Childhood NZ
“The question we need to be asking is: have education officials been trained in unconscious bias and if not why not, and
why are they not requiring the same of those who go out recruiting teachers and appointing and managing teacher
employment,” says Mr Ballantyne.
A nationwide survey of the early childhood sector
by ChildForum in 2012 showed strong support for the Ministry of Education and the Government to act to increase the
proportion of men in teaching.
The survey found that benefits of including men on the teaching staff included: giving children access to male role
models, making dads feel more welcome to stay and be involved, improving staff dynamics by bringing in different
viewpoints, and being better for children’s behaviour, social skills, and learning.
An OECD report on early childhood education released in June 2017 agrees. “A reinforced male presence is critical to
counter traditional views of women in child-rearing positions, and to the extent that school and learning remain gender
neutral,” says the international agency.
Mr Ballantyne also runs an early childhood centre in Dunedin with his wife Sue and currently 30 percent of his staff are
male, showing that a gender balance is obtainable.
“Our centres should reflect society and our children should see both men and women working in every early childhood
centre, that’s what we encourage.
“Children are thriving in their learning and parents are choosing our service because they know at our place children
get the best of both the male and female world in all its diversity,” says Mr Ballantyne.
“There are many employers who are keen to have male staff but stumble when it comes to recruitment and are uncertain
about managing the inclusion of male employees,” says Dr Alexander.
“NZ education officials need to be talking to us about how to improve the situation and the Government needs to set a target of at least 5 percent male early childhood teachers by 2022.
“We hope change begins before the end of the year and funding is announced by the Education Minister to meet the costs
of necessary activities such as unconscious bias training for Ministry of Education staff and teacher educators,
training workshops and support groups for employers, a promotional campaign, and a co-ordination service.
“The alternative is another 20 years of sexism in our early childhood education system which is not ideal for young
children’s learning and socialisation,” says Dr Alexander
Some relevant materials:
Russell Ballantyne: Mr Ballantyne is the president of EC-Menz. He has worked in early childhood education for 34 years and has held
positions of Kindergarten Teacher, Head Teacher, Senior Teacher, General Manager and visiting lecturer. Today he is a
co-owner and teacher of an early childhood centre in Dunedin ‘Early Childhood on Stafford’.
Dr Sarah Alexander: Dr Alexander is the chief executive of ChildForum. She has worked in early childhood education for more than 30 years.
She has written extensively on men in childcare, with her work published in different languages, and has been at the
forefront of advocacy for change.
Funded by the German Federal Ministry of Family Affairs, Dr Alexander was invited to join a small group of experts from
around the world to study the Men in Kitas project in Hamburg and represent NZ at the International Conference "Men in
Early Childhood Education and Care" in Berlin in 2012.