Updated: Apr 6, 2022
The early childhood education and care (ECEC) sector in Ireland is comprised of 98.2% female practitioners and only 1.8% male practitioners (Pobal, 2019). These figures represent a vast and glaringly obvious gender imbalance. The number of male practitioners within OECD countries averages at around 3.2%, so yet again Ireland is lagging behind.
Gender Roles and Vocationalism
When considering the difficult issues that the ECEC sector is currently experiencing regarding low pay and a dearth of opportunities for career advancement, one can understand why this sector is generally unattractive. The persistent rigidity of societal perceptions regarding vocationalism and gender role perceptions (the male is the breadwinner and the female is the caregiver) must also contribute significantly to the low number of male practitioners.
Lack of Pay and Career Progression
Let’s face it, gender aside, if you are the main breadwinner you are hardly going to support your family to live comfortably in a job which, on average, pays a mere 0.15 cent per hour above the living wage. A recent sectoral profile report showed that practitioners who had gone so far as to obtain a BA (Hons) degree are only earning €13.25 an hour on average with the majority of practitioners working less than 30 hours per week (Pobal, 2019; 2020). This makes the weekly earning potential, if you are degree qualified, around €397. Not to mention the fact that you may not have any work during school holidays and will have to sign on for a social welfare payment during this time. A minimum wage job will pay you €408 for a standard 40-hour week and will more than likely have career progression opportunities that you just won’t get in the ECEC sector.
Beneficial for All – Practitioners & Children
Finding ways to make ECEC a more viable career choice generally by improving pay and conditions for those currently in the sector and addressing retention issues and lack of career progression opportunities would not only improve conditions for current practitioners but may also help to address the lack of men in the sector.
Children will also benefit greatly from an increase in male ECEC practitioners and greater gender balance in the sector. Curriculum and quality frameworks maintain the importance of children seeing themselves reflected in the ECEC environment to help foster a sense of identity and belonging. It doesn’t take a genius to see that male preschool children cannot see themselves reflected in the environment in a very fundamental way – gender – in their eyes boys just don’t appear to grow up to become ECEC practitioners. As a result, the image of the practitioner as a female is ingrained from an early age. How can we expect boys to grow up and consider working in ECEC if they never encounter male practitioners?
Positive Role Model
Having a positive male role model for young children in ECEC, both girls and boys, can only be a good thing. An increased number of male practitioners would enrich ECEC experiences for children, especially considering the diversity of families in society where children may not have a male role model in their lives.
Moving Forward – Awareness
In 2019 the OECD recommended targeted and informative awareness campaigns to promote ECEC as a career consideration for men. In the week where Leaving Certificate students in Ireland are receiving college offers, one must wonder if addressing the issue with the post-primary student cohort might be the way to go. Perhaps these students could provide an insight into how we can make a career in ECEC an attractive one for young men as they consider their future careers?
About the Author:
Paula Walshe is an ECEC trainer and placement assessor in the further education and training sector and a freelance writer. She currently holds a BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Education and will complete her studies for a Master’s Degree in Leadership for ECEC in 2022. Paula has extensive ECEC experience in both pedagogical practice and ECEC management. You can learn more about Paula’s work at her website (www.thedigitalearlychildhoodeducator.ie), where she writes a weekly blog on current topics in Early Childhood Education and Care in Ireland and provides useful professional and academic resources for students and professionals in this sector. Paula is also one of the creators of an ECE community of practice based on Twitter: ECE Quality Ireland (@ECEQualityIRL) / Twitter
OECD. (2019). Good Practice for Jobs in Early Childhood Education and Care. OECD Publishing: Paris.
Pobal. (2019). Annual Early Years Sector Profile Report 2018/2019. Dublin: Pobal.
Pobal. (2020). Annual Early Years Sector Profile Report 2019/2020. Dublin: Pobal.