Home Geography Global Perspectives on Human Capital in Early Childhood Education: Reconceptualizing Theory, Policy, and Practice
Stories from Taiwan, Korea, and Hong Kong: Systems of ECEC in East Asia
Experiencing the aftermath of colonization and imperialism while undergoing tidal waves of industrialization and globalization after WWII, parts of East Asia, specifically, Taiwan, Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore, have experienced an economic resurgence to the point where they became known as the “Four Little Dragons” in the 1980s. Soaring into the category of “developed” economies since the 1990s, the four little East Asian dragons have achieved the status of “modern” societies and developed economies; they offer successful stories of national transformation from Asia in the twenty-first century (Chen, 2010). It is widely believed that the successful economic stories from East Asia are associated with their education systems that are known to be effective for producing “skilled workers” for the nations’ development (e.g., see East Asia Forum, 2014).
Particularly, as East Asian students continue to outperform other students worldwide in multiple rounds of international assessment tests or schemes such as the Program for International Student Achievement (PISA) and the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS), East Asian education systems have been at the center of media spotlights, globally, as good models for ensuring the production of highly skilled (wo)men power for the future economy (e.g., see ABC News, 2013; Jerrim, 2014). It is important to note that emerging from the popular global discourse circulating regarding East Asian students’ high academic performance is a mobilization of the human capital model in education in which productivity and competitiveness are highlighted as educational outcomes (e.g., see, Cunha & Heckman, 2006; Mincer, 1958; Schultz, 1961, 1993).
Understanding education as an investment for future economic productivity interjects a new socioeconomic construction of children as a form of human capital (e.g., see Aizer & Cunha, 2012; Cho, 2005; Kent, 1998; Osterbacka, Merz, & Zick, 2010; The White House, 2014) into educational discourse. Such epistemology of and about children as human capital enables various threads of reasoning concerning contemporary interpretations of quality ECEC as investment globally as well as regionally in East Asia. Particularly, an economic calculation of the cost of child rearing and models of cost-benefit analysis of ECEC are two key reference points that are mobilized by policy makers and political interest groups to shape the current (re)constructions of ECEC systems across parts of East Asia.
Noting the inter-Asian spatial relationships of modernity and globalization, in this chapter we “see” the label of East Asia as a complex geopolitical term where similarities of (de) colonization and globalization are at play to produce similar yet different sociocultural conditions. In a nutshell, these three selected locations—Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Korea—have been through periods of colonization in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Our intention is not to describe what the East Asia story is. Rather, through presenting stories from three different geopolitical locations within East Asia, we discuss how a dominant theme of ECEC as investment is at work and problematize the hegemonic neoliberal discourse at different local levels in Asia.
We construct our critical analysis and reconceptualization of ECEC as investment narrative in the context of the new landscapes of quality educate provision for all children by presenting stories of ECEC systems from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Korea. Highlighting some of the key reforms and current policies relating to children and families, we offer three stories from East Asian geopolitical spaces as case studies to problematize how systems of ECEC in East Asia are facing issues relating to equity and equality while articulating quality ECEC as a form of social and education investment for all children.
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