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Deconstructing Human Capital Discourse in Early Childhood Education in Indonesia

Vina Adriany and Kurniawan Saefullah

Indonesia is one of the countries in Asia that has recently experienced rapid economic growth (Hasan, Hyson, & Chang, 2013). However, with its 250 million people living in more than 15,000 islands in the archipelago, the country is also experiencing rapid inequality, as the chasm between middle and lower classes becomes wider (Yusuf, Sumber, & Rum, 2014). The inequalities are particularly obvious in the education sector, particularly in early childhood education (ECE). ECE is still exclusively for middle-class children; those from poor-family backgrounds are very often excluded from it (Hasan et al., 2013; Human Development East Asia and Pacific Region, the World Bank, 2012).

ECE has received much attention from the Indonesian government, particularly since 2001, when the government received a US$21.5 million loan to develop ECE (The World Bank, 2007). On a global level, ECE has also received emphasis from the United Nations since it is viewed as a means to end poverty in the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (Hasan et al., 2013). This was also followed by the declaration in the Dakar Framework, which includes improving access to ECE as one of the goals of Education for All (EFA) (UNESCO, 2000). As one of the countries that participates in the MDGs and EFA, the Indonesian government is also attempting to improve its ECE.

The Indonesian government, like other governments, believes that ECE can contribute positively to Indonesia’s economic development— a perspective that is likely to be influenced by human capital theory in education (Hasan et al., 2013; Human Development East Asia and Pacific Region, the World Bank, 2012). Within human capital theory, it is believed that any money spent on ECE will bring higher returns in the future (Nolan, 2013). Human capital investment theory also asserts that ECE will be able to prevent children from facing social exclusion in the future (Clarke, 2006). Most importantly, more spending on ECE will reduce inequalities in society. It is often predicated on the basic assumption that any money spent on ECE will be returned with interest in the future. It also sees education, and ECE in particular, as a way to tackle social issues such as poverty, juvenile delinquency, and so forth. As Formen and Nuttall (2014) suggest, human capital discourse is very pervasive within ECE policy in Indonesia.

It is widely accepted that there is a strong relationship between human capital and the economic growth and well-being of a state (Hoffman, 2013). Using cost-benefit analysis, it is argued that earlier intervention for children will incur lesser cost to a society compared to later intervention (Hasan et al., 2013; Penn, 2002, 2008, 2011).

In ECE, the argument to justify the human capital theory is often supported using a scientific approach, namely, child development theory (Penn, 2002). Child development theory centers on a particular model of children’s development (Burman, 2008a; Walkerdine, 1998). This model promotes both developmentalism and a child-centered approach. Developmentalism itself can be defined as a view of child development that relies heavily on the Western model (Edwards, Blaise, & Hammer, 2009; Formen & Nuttall, 2014), while the child- centered approach in education is predicated on developmentalism. Within the child-centered approach, children are seen as rational and active individuals. Both developmentalism and the child-centered approach assume that there exists a universal meaning of childhood, while in fact, childhood is always produced and reproduced within a particular context. Different cultures and societies therefore have different constructions of childhood.

Just as in other Southern Hemisphere countries, the human capital model in ECE in Indonesia has been reinforced and supported by the World Bank (Penn, 2002, 2008, 2011). While the World Bank perceives itself as a caring institution that helps to reduce inequality between countries in the South and the North, many critics have argued that the World Bank in fact acts as a broker between rich and poor countries and therefore perpetuates inequality between them (Penn, 2002). In Indonesia the World Bank’s support for the ECE program commenced in 2004, though its preparation had begun in 2001. The program itself was completed in 2013; at the time of writing this chapter, the program had actually ended. Even though the program has finished, it will soon be followed by another program called the “Grand Design of ECE,” which is still predicated on the human capital model (Human Development East Asia and Pacific Region, the World Bank, 2012). Therefore, this chapter is written with the hope that it can evaluate past policy on human capital in ECE while also providing insights for future policy about ECE in Indonesia. Most importantly, we hope that this chapter can contribute to the larger debate about the human capital approach in ECE.

This chapter attempts to problematize the discourse of human capital that has been celebrated in Indonesia. It will argue that the human capital approach sustains the neoliberal regime while at the same time perpetuating the marginalization of different approaches to childhood by labeling them as “the other.”

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