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NZ's potential in early childhood education

NZ's potential in early childhood education

New Zealand is one of the worst countries in the developed world when it comes to numbers of men working in early childhood centres, but has the potential to be one of the best, says a visiting early childhood education expert.

Co-ordinator of the Resource and Training Centre for Child Care at the University of Ghent (Belgium) Jan Peeters said New Zealand's male participation rate of less than 1% compared 'very badly' with countries such as Denmark, Sweden, Scotland and Norway (which has achieved almost 10%).

Mr Peeters was in Christchurch this weekend (ending 01 April) to address the annual conference of the Early Childhood Council and to take part in a New Zealand 'working party' tasked with attracting more men into the New Zealand early childhood sector.

Mr Peeters said that based on what he had seen whilst in the country, 'New Zealand has, despite your recent bad performance, the potential to lead the world when it comes to the participation rate of men in early childhood education'.

Countries most successful in getting men into early childhood education had involved concerted action by Government, the teacher trainers and the centres, Mr Peeters said.

'This is because centres on their own cannot attract male teachers who do not exist. Teacher trainers train new teachers for no purpose if centres do not welcome them. And Government cannot succeed with policy if the teacher trainers and centres are not committed to delivering.

'That is why I am so optimistic about New Zealand. The workshop I have just attended 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 focussed on how to get more men into the sector.

'It would not happen that way in most countries. It was all very egalitarian, all very practical, very down-to-earth, very "this is the problem, now what do we do to fix it."'

Mr Peeters said his other reason for optimism about New Zealand was 'the seemingly astonishing achievement of your kohanga reo in attracting men to working in their centres'.

'I am told it has achieved about 30%' of its teachers being male, with about half of these qualified and half in training.

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

It had been interesting to hear how kohanga had attracted so many men to early childhood teaching, because 'many of the techniques are exactly what international research suggests should be done'.

'I am told that from day one they 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 compliments the role of women.

'They identify what individual fathers can contribute to centres as soon as they can, then once they are doing volunteer work they encourage them to train as teachers. They also recognise the importance of grandfathers, and encourage them to take an active role.'

Mr Peeters said men brought 'major benefits' to the centres where they worked.

'They provide positive male role models for both boys and girls. They teach boys it is part of the male job description to be gentle and nurturing. They provide reliable male figures for children who do not have access to father figures.

'And they provide a new source of labour for a sector that is short of trained teachers.'

New Zealand has 13,609 women and only 132 men working in its free Kindgartens, childcare centres and in homebased care. (2005 figures) Since the early 1990s the percentage of men in the sector has halved from two to less than 1%.

Mr Peeters was brought to New Zealand by the Early Childhood Council to address its annual conference (held in Christchurch from 30 March to 01 April) and to attend an Early-Childhood-Council-convened workshop tasked with devising an action plan for getting more men working in New Zealand's early childhood education centres.

Those attending the workshop came from the three main parts of the early childhood sector: Government including the Ministry of Education and Chair of Parliament's Education and Science Select Committee Hon Brian Donnelly; senior teacher educators including those from the universities of Auckland and Canterbury; and leaders from service delivery organizations such as the Kindergartens, Kohanga Reo, the New Zealand Childcare Association and the Early Childhood Council.

The workshop devised an outline plan for getting more men working it the early childhood education sector and committed to developing a more detailed plan in the coming months.

Ends

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