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The Making of the East Asian Narrative of ECEC as Investment

With similar sociocultural historical aftermaths of colonization and contemporary experiences of globalization, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Korea have come to (re)position education as one of the most imperative investments for enhancing future economic development. Hence, recent discourses concerning the role of ECEC in an overall program of educational reform in a number of East Asian localities often center on a dominant hegemonic narrative of ECEC as investment.

The concept of the “child” has shifted drastically nowadays with economic rationalities. One popular example involves discussions of the cost of raising a child through economic systems of reasoning. Attaching dollar signs to child rearing has become widespread, locally and globally. In that, the costs associated with children have become hot topics that contribute to the intelligibility of a grand narrative of ECEC as investment. For example, it has been headline news that a guesstimation of the cost of raising a child to the age of 26 in Hong Kong may be more than US$700,000 (The Wall Street Journal, 2014). Similarly, such rhetoric has been traveling globally. In Australia, a relatively recent research project has reported that the cost of raising 2 children to the age of 21 is about AU$800,000 (AMP, 2013; ABC

News, 2014). In the United States, it has been guesstimated that raising a child up to the age of 17 (not including university tuition) may be as much as US$476,000 (ABC News, 2013).

Linking child rearing with dollar signs has created multiple critical discussions in most East Asian contexts. Because of this, the majority of young East Asian families are choosing to delay the time for having children or not having any children at all. Thus, the significant drop in birth rates since the 1990s in East Asia has been elevated as national crises. In Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Korea, according to the official statistical data, the birth rate is no more than 1.2 children per woman. What this means is that families are adopting a one-child policy voluntarily since raising children can be very expensive. However, the increased cost of child rearing is often linked with the cost of quality education and care from preschool to university. One of the most extreme examples would be how Korean parents are investing and spending more on children’s shadow education (private tutoring) than the total government expenditure on public education (e.g., see Lee, 2002; Sharma, 2013; Strother, 2012). Embedded within this thread of reasoning is the implication that children are human capital or a human resource through which education as investment is legitimatized.

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