I am hoping like hell that our policy makers in the area of Early Childhood Education aren’t looking to Sweden as way of the future.
Simply put, the Swedish National Curriculum for Early Childhood Education affirms three values – children’s rights, gender equity, and education for sustainable development. The gender equity component indicates that girls and boys should have the same opportunities to develop and learn “without limitations imposed by stereotyped gender roles and patterns.” So, the teachers in have worked to counteract traditional gender patterns and gender roles. I am actually supportive of that, within limits.
The latest, albeit radical, representation is the pre-school with no gender references. This is a taxpayer-funded ECE provider.
- There are no fairytales
- All children are referred to as “friends” (may as well be ‘comrades’)
- No references to ‘him’, ‘her’, ‘he’ or ‘she’
- Construction activities (like Lego) are placed next to the toy kitchen so that no “barriers” are in place between the two activities
But this centre also goes further to breakdown views beyond just gender – into “fostering an environment that is tolerant of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual and transgender people.” So, this centre has:
- books that represent gay or lesbian parents, solo parents, and adopted children
- teachers who suggest children can be “two Mums” and not just the stereotypical Mum and Dad
To be fair, this is a radical example and representation of the new direction for ECE in Stockholm. And, there are certainly calls for it from parents and caregivers – the Centre Director says there is a long waiting list for admission to the kindy.
My concern, shared by Child Psychologist Jay Belsky, is that boys like doing boy things and that if ECE is to go to the extremes as evident above then we run the risk of emasculating our boys. Yes, it is important to break down barriers for girls and women to succeed but not at the expense of boys and men. In turn, I do want to see an acknowledgment of different family structures however this centre appears to have gone beyond the ‘tipping point’. I suspect it is meeting a need within their local community.
The New Zealand education system needs to reject the Swedish model (and radical representations) and instead focus on celebrating being male and being female without placing undue barriers or judgments in the way. The problem with removing gender is that too many pieces of curriculum actually remove ‘being male’ and inadvertantly place the ‘being female’ as more important. The more that we emasculate our boys the fewer roles we allow them to have within our society.