Andre Joachim Fernandez is 24 years old. He loves drums, football and Spiderman. He is also a preschool teacher at Star Learners Child Care, taking care of more than 20 young children aged between five and six. Yes, he’s a guy’s guy in the traditionally female-dominated world, this one being early childhood education.
In Singapore, less than one per cent of preschool educators are men, the Early Childhood Development Agency (ECDA) told CNA Women. The agency said there are currently 217 male educators in the preschool sector, and while the number has increased over the years, men are still a rarity.
Indeed, when Fernandez was doing his child psychology and early education diploma at Ngee Ann Polytechnic, he was one of only two men in a class of around 20.
When the time came for him to choose a career path, a friend suggested Fernandez consider early childhood education. And even though some friends and family pointed out that there were few men in the industry, Fernandez could not see why not.
“I’m a very jovial person and don’t give a thought to what people think. I decided (to work at a preschool) because I love kids,” he said.
By and large, Fernandez said that society and most parents are now more accepting of male preschool teachers.
“A few years ago, people still thought that a preschool teacher should be a female. This perception is shifting a bit, though I think there is still some room for improvement,” he said.
“Having young men like me and my peers choose this career helps to show the public that men can be preschool educators.”
A DAY AT WORK
Fernandez is not just the teacher, he is a friend to his charges, discussing superheroes, supervillains and their latest travel adventures together.
He is also their resident deejay and musician. “Sometimes, I will play songs in my playlist to them when we are playing musical chairs, especially if I had been listening to these songs on the way to work,” he said.
The Star Learners curriculum includes language and literacy, discovery of the world, numeracy, social and emotional skills, motor skills and basic life skills, such as how to button a shirt or work a zipper – skills that men can teach as well as women, said Fernandez.
Moreover, he added that gender diversity gives kids the best of both worlds and creates a livelier learning environment because men bring unique qualities and their own teaching style to the table.
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FINDING HIS INNER CHILD
Fernandez believes that early childhood education is a meaningful pursuit.
“The first five years of a child’s life are very important. We are the first few responders to the child and need to ensure that he or she grows up well and makes his or her progress into primary school easily. So we need to be kind, loving and caring,” he said.
But Fernandez also doles out tough love where necessary, because it was a big part of his own upbringing. Both his parents gave him tough love – they were strict but also doted on him, buying him toys, and ice cream even when it was raining.
“I think I am a bit stern with my students sometimes, but not fierce. I teach my students what is right and wrong, and how to be more independent to prepare them for primary school.
“I get them to eat by themselves, make their beds and put their own mattress cover on. But to lighten the mood, I try to make (these daily activities) into a sort of game where possible,” he added.