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Early Education Advocacy: “How Well Does It Pay Off?”

A comprehensive and quality early childhood education practice will increase the education level of society, ensure its health, and result in social harmony and accordingly the empowerment of human capital. Studies demonstrate that the rate of return on investments made in human capital is the highest during the early childhood stage. This situation puts forward the requirement of concentrating investments in human development and economic growth in early childhood years (TUSi AD, 2005, p. 16; my translation).

The above quotation is from a 2005 report on early education, “Dogru Baglangif,” supported and financed by TUSIAD. This report is one of the many documents in which the language of human capital exerts a profound influence on understandings of education in Turkey. Written in collaboration with AQEV and academics at the universities, the report was designed to contribute to an increased public awareness about the importance of early childhood education and its expansion in Turkey. As in the other reports, in the TUSIAD report, the purposes of, and reasons for, early childhood education come to be framed within the discourse of investment. This kind of legitimization for early education is shared by all the reports that I examined and talk about in this chapter.

Before going into an analysis of the TUSIAD report, let us begin with some statistical data representing the current state of Turkey’s provision of early childhood education. Preschool is not compulsory in Turkey. As of 2012, about 31 percent of children between the ages of 36 and 72 months benefit from preschool education in Turkey (ERG & AQEV, 2013). Almost all institutionally based early childhood education services (about 95%) are provided by the public sector and are available for a fee (World Bank, 2013). The reports by Word Bank (2013) and ERG and AQEV (2013) highlight that significant disparities exist between regions in terms of access to preschool services. While the preschool enrollment rate in Hatay, for example, is above 62 percent, in Hakkari, one of the most underdeveloped southeastern cities with a substantial Kurdish population, the enrollment rate decreases to as low as 15 percent. Access to early childhood education also varies by income in all regions.

In the enrollment of children in early education programs, Turkey lags far behind the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries that function as a comparative reference (see, e.g., World Bank, 2013; ERG & AQEV, 2013). However, the substantial increase in the enrollments in the last two decades is worth mentioning here. Early childhood education has been an issue for governing bodies in Turkey for a long period. Beginning in the 1980s, attention has been directed particularly at achieving statistical improvements in early education. For example, the country’s Five Year Development Plans have consistently identified targets for expanding the coverage of early childhood education. However, the dates for the targets have been extended plan to plan, and up until the 2000s, there was no significant improvement in terms of the coverage of the services. As of the year 2000, Turkey’s schooling rate for children aged 3-5 had reached only 5.4 percent. This rate steadily increased to 16.1 percent in 2006 and then to 30.93 percent in 2012 (ERG & A^EV, 2013).

The statistical developments in the provision of early childhood education in the last two decades coincide with the changing rationalities of early childhood education from a welfare-oriented perspective toward a future-oriented investment in Turkey. According to this new rationality, the importance of early education lies in its future benefits for individual and national prosperity, and not, for example, in providing children with an environment sheltered from the effects of the present market economy. The fact that early education has been increasingly reconfigured as a high-return investment in human capital has also opened up a space for the increasing presence and influence of nongovernmental actors in the early education realm. As early education has entwined itself firmly with human capital theory in the last two decades and has been linked to the concerns with increasing productivity, sustaining economic growth, and ensuring equality of opportunity, it has also turned into a focus for a wide range of organizations such as civil and professional associations and philanthropic foundations.

Dogru Ba§langtg” is the report in which TUSIAD, one of Turkey’s most powerful nongovernmental organizations representing the business community, declares early childhood education to be a focus of its attention and concern. Since its establishment in 1971, TUSIAD has sought to play an influential role in the framings of economic, social, and educational policies of the country, financed many studies, and released many reports on many topics ranging from mainly economy to social policies including education. As Inal (2013) notes, since the 1990s, a discursive shift has taken place in the education reports of TUSI AD. The idea of global competiveness has increasingly started to guide the definitions of, and prescriptions for solutions of, the problems of Turkish education system in these reports. The education system was judged to be failing in terms of serving the needs and demands of the globalized world economy, and the reports insistently called for reforming the education system so that it trains workforce that would be globally competitive. In the lengthy quote below, cited also in foreword to the “Dogru Ba§langtg” report, TUSiAD describes its mission as follows:

Committed to the universal principals of democracy and human rights, together with the freedoms of enterprise, belief and opinion, TUSIAD tries to foster the development of a social structure which conforms to Ataturk’s principals and reforms, and strives to fortify the concept of a democratic civil society and a secular state of law in Turkey, where the government primarily attends to its main functional duties. TUSIAD aims at establishing the legal and institutional framework of the market economy and ensuring the application of internationally accepted business ethics. TUSI AD believes in and works for the idea of integration within the international economic system, by increasing the competitiveness of the Turkish industrial and services sectors, thereby assuring itself of a well-defined and permanent place in the economic arena. TUSI AD supports all the policies aimed at the establishment of a liberal economic system which uses human and natural resources more efficiently by means of the latest technological innovations and which tries to create the proper conditions of for a permanent increase in productivity and quality, thus enhancing competitiveness. TUSIAD, in accordance with its mission and in the context of its activities, initiates public debate by communicating its position supported by scientific research on current issues. (2008)

The TUSIAD report, “Dogru Ba§langt$,” as mentioned previously, is one of the reports written with an aim of increasing public awareness about the importance of early childhood education and facilitating its expansion in Turkey. The report covers various topics from the definition, importance of, and returns on early education, to the identification of problem areas in the planning, provision, and financing of the current early education services in Turkey. The report also proposes recommendations for reorganizing and improving the early childhood education policies and services in Turkey. The language deployed in the discussion of early education in the report has a close resemblance with the language used in the mission statement of TUSiAD cited above.

The TUSIAD report utilizes traditional concerns and missions in its advocacy of early education. For example, the value and importance of early childhood education is linked to the value and importance of women’s participation in the workforce. The report also briefly mentions the importance of early education in terms of facilitating social bonding between different communities in the society. The foremost and most influential rationale singled out in the report for developing comprehensive early education policy, however, is that early childhood education is a high-return investment in human capital. Through the notion of human capital, early childhood education is translated into the language of economics and rendered intelligible to the TUSIAD’s mission given in the quotation above. Framed as an investment in the specific qualities of human beings who are thought to be a form of capital (resource) expected to yield a future return when invested in, education itself, according to the report, is an entrepreneurial choice. The “evidence” that is drawn on in the report is to support the claim that early education is a good entrepreneurial choice for the government in Turkey.

 
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