If your child is lucky enough to have a male educator, they are in the minority when it comes to schooling in Australia.
Male educators make up just two percent of the workforce in Australian early education, compared to 18 percent in primary schools and around 40 percent in high schools.
Australia's first longitudinal study of teacher numbers has revealed the number of male primary school and high school teachers has fallen 10 per cent and 14 per cent respectively since 1977.
Dr Kevin McGrath led the study, Are male teachers headed for extinction? The 50-year decline of male teachers in Australia 1 for Macquarie University (he now works for the NSW government). Dr McGrath says part of the problem is that no government in Australia had a policy to encourage men to take up teaching.
According to Dr McGrath, it’s very clear that the younger the children in education settings, the fewer men in the workforce.
“There are two ways we can think about the factors causing this situation. First, this echoes the perception that teaching young children is ‘women’s work’, or not suitable for men. And as we’ve seen historically in Australia, work that’s perceived as women’s work is undervalued, underpaid, and perceived to have lower status,” says Dr McGrath.
“Another reason is how men are perceived in Australia. The characteristics of men that are valued in Australia are sporty, assertive, strong, rough blokes – the ‘man’s man’. Men who don’t conform to the dominant types of masculinities, for example because of appearance, sexuality, or career choice, are marginalised, made fun of, ridiculed, and sometimes treated with suspicion.”
The Macquarie University study drew on annual workplace data, calculating the proportion of male teachers in Australia from 1965 to 2016. The study found male primary school teachers will disappear entirely from government schools by 2054 and be ‘extinct’ in Australia by 2067 if the decline continues at the current rate.
What men offer
Dr McGrath says while there aren’t a huge number of differences between men and women in early childcare, he believes men tend to be more accepting of rough and tumble play in young children.
But when it comes to being good educators, men offer the same things as women do, which is why there should be an aim to have both women and men working in education settings.
“Young children distinguish between men and women, boys and girls, based on physical appearance, they observe how people who look male or female behave, and they then use that gender knowledge to make generalisations about others.
“Essentially, they learn how men and women are different and how they should behave as a boy or girl. In early education settings, where around two in 100 educators are male – what children learn is that adults who are affectionate, kind, loving, and concerned about education, are all female. So those traits must be more appropriate to display if they’re a girl, than if they’re a boy.
“This isn’t to say that children won’t learn that men can have these traits - and some boys are naturally very caring and affectionate - but for some children, from a young age, they don’t get to see men who are kind, caring, loving or concerned about education.”