For many years, Early Childhood Education was regarded simply as ‘a phase’, a filler when young children get ready for the next-step of elementary schools. However, during recent years, people have started to notice a change–day care and kindergarten fees soaring sky-high; 6 year olds owning mobile devices; and parents trying to enrol their children in ‘good’ kindergartens years early–this ‘just a phase’ perception is gradually self-debunking.
The changes that have occurred within the realm of Early Childhood Education (ECE) in recent decades are hard to ignore, and they have certainly sparked conversation among sociologists, educational experts and last but maybe most importantly, parents. 'How do we raise a well-adjusted and happy child in today’s world from the outset?' 'Why does raising a child costs so much?' 'Are these changes merely new wine in an old bottle?'
With these questions in mind, we talk to Dr. Drew D. Gerdes, who is the Elementary School Assistant Principal for ECE at Concordia International School Shanghai.
What are the reasons the ECE workforce still remains dominated by females?
In many parts of the world, early childhood educators are paid less than their counterparts in elementary, middle and high school. For this reason, it is often difficult for a male to support a family on such a lower income. Thankfully, this trend is changing in specific parts of the world. In addition, Early Childhood Education includes a wide age range, from birth to early Primary School. Childcare is considered a part of ECE, and such environments do not necessarily require specific training or degrees. Finally, females are generally considered more care-giving and gentle, which is a critical component in Early Childhood Education. Social stigma that such a profession is not masculine exists, but I feel this is decreasing.
How did you first get into the field of ECE?
I always knew I would be an educator, but my initial interest was in elementary art education. When some of my undergraduate art education courses were cancelled at the last minute, I had to scramble for new courses. The only courses still open were in Early Childhood Education and after just a few weeks, I was hooked! The females in those courses were wonderful, supporting mentors who encouraged me to enter the ECE field and become a strong male role model for young children. I have always had tremendous support from those around me, including significant educational leaders such as Dr. Lilian Katz, world-renowned expert in ECE.
What is the significance of a male presence in ECE?
In the US, where I received my educational training and spent the majority of my career, most males are busy working to provide for their families. Many mothers and fathers are both working. There are many single-parent families too, where the father is not present. While mothers have a natural instinct for care-giving, some young children don’t have male role models. Here in Shanghai, I know many fathers are working long hours and traveling often. Children, both young boys and girls, need time with father figures as part of their natural maturity and development. If we desire diverse educational opportunities for children, male educators and role models should be included as part of this philosophy.
In comparison, are there any distinctive benefits that children can gain from male teachers?
Yes! I feel both girls and boys benefit from having a male educator in the early years. For boys, there is a benefit of being connected to an adult who looks similar to them and has common interests. I’ve always had boys ask me to play soccer and build Lego. It’s also beneficial for boys to see me engage in other play, such as holding a doll in the Home Living Center or participating in art activities, which are often more enjoyed by girls. For girls, they benefit from seeing another type of care-giver, one that is different from the female character and disposition. In general, all children will gain the most benefit when more diversity can be included in their learning environment.
What are the biases against males in ECE and are they really biases?
There certainly are biases against males in ECE. Some may view the profession as more feminine, while others may view it as simple babysitting. However, when one looks at the child development and pedagogical spectrum of knowledge necessary to fully understand the early childhood field, one may begin to think otherwise. Too often, people may view the work done in an early learning environment as simple play. There is however tremendous knowledge and practice that goes into a learning environment where high-quality play invites tremendous learning.
Are there any advantages for men to enter a female dominated arena such as ECE?
Of course! Anytime a person enters an experience that is different from what they are accustomed to, deeper learning and appreciation can take place. For example, I feel that over the years I’ve learned to become a better listener, learned how to be more patient and learned how to more effectively communicate with others. When the majority of the day is spent on the floor reading, singing and coloring, and when moment-by-moment I probably make more decisions each day than a surgeon, I feel I have grown not only as a professional, but also as a person.