Research Nugget

Men in Early Childhood Education and Care

Estimates put the participation of men in early childhood education and care (ECEC) at a global scale at between two and three percent. This has raised questions concerning the gendered workplace and the notion that ECEC is traditionally ‘women’s work’.

A paper by a team from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, the University of Nottingham (UK) and Queen Maud University (Norway), funded by the National Research Foundation through its South African Research Chair Initiative (SARChI), addresses the question of men’s work in in ECEC. In South Africa, as is the case elsewhere, bringing carework and masculinities together is seen as an important alternative to the traditional opposition of masculinity to carework. ECEC provides a rich and fertile ground to examine how men’s alternate pathways can be examined in relation to teaching young children in the early years of schooling. The study found that the ECEC environment is highly gendered which can result in discrimination against men choosing to work in the field as well as lead to others dropping out. Some men are ridiculed or labelled as non-masculine for choosing a profession that is not ‘intellectually demanding’ and ‘trivial’. Working in a field that has traditionally been effeminised and unrecognised economically also leads to questioning male economic status. Often men feel uncomfortable in a space traditionally occupied by women and their own masculinity can be questioned by friends, family, and associates. Traditional notions of ECEC, based on the stereotype of the dominant male, see men as less capable of nurturing, empathy, and care than women. In many instances, men are perceived as a sexual danger to younger children, largely without justification, resulting in some men dropping out of the profession to avoid being labelled as paedophiles.

Ultimately the researchers see the presence of men in ECEC as necessary towards altering the gendered profile of the profession. However, gendered disparities continue to exist even with men working in the field. For example, some men in ECEC choose not to perform intimate forms of care (for example changing nappies) as part of their professional duties in ECEC as they consider it to be a devalued performance that is in conflict with their manhood. The researchers argue the need for interventions that alter the gendering profile of ECEC and bringing attention to gender and masculinity in this sector of work. Addressing masculinity both at the local level and at a global scale requires a multipronged approach that includes families, communities, and early childhood sectors.

Access the full paper published in European Early Childhood Education Research Journal here.