Home Geography Global Perspectives on Human Capital in Early Childhood Education: Reconceptualizing Theory, Policy, and Practice
Human Capital Discourse and the Neoliberal Legacy
While many educators and practitioners celebrate human capital discourse in ECE, it actually depicts the extent to which the legacy of neoliberalism is sustained within the Indonesian education system. Harvey defines neoliberalism as “political economic practice proposes that human well-being can be best advanced by liberating individual freedom and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free market and free trade” (2007, p. 2). In a neoliberal model, the government will attempt to minimize the role of the state and maximize the roles of individuals and the community, except in some targeted communities (Penn, 2002). As a consequence, neoliberalism is often followed by deregulation,
Table 9.2 Milestones for ECED project in Indonesia
Note: The table was adapted from Hasan et al. (2013, p. 71).
privatization, and the withdrawal of the state from many areas of social provision (Harvey, 2007, p. 3).
In its report, the World Bank clearly says that the main feature of the ECED project in Indonesia, just like in any other country that has been supported by the World Bank, is community-driven development (CDD). CDD itself is defined by the World Bank as
A development initiative that provides control of the development process, resources and decision making authority directly to community groups. The CDD process assumes that people within a community are in the best position to judge what they need to improve their lives.
Within the CDD approach, each village was given the freedom to choose its own teachers, identify its own needs, and make its own decisions. Here, again, one can see the legacy of neoliberal philosophy that focuses on the individual’s—rather than the state’s—responsibil- ity. Even though the World Bank, together with the Indonesian government provided funding in the beginning and conducted training for local community members to run ECED, the biggest responsibility still lies with the community. The funding given to each selected villages was US$9000 (Hasan et al., 2013). Even though the villages received it as a national level funding, this was part of the loan lent by the World Bank. Because the funding was not distributed to all poor villages, it also contributed to the tensions between the ECE organizations supported by the World Bank and those that were not. In 2008, we visited one non-World Bank’s ECE facility and its condition was appalling. The condition of ECE establishments endorsed by the World Bank was very different.
The principle of a democratic and civic society is at the heart of the CDD approach. In fact, in Indonesia the CDD approach could only be possible in the post-New-Order government after they introduced the decentralization law (Dagsupta & Beard, 2007). The CDD approach itself was a response to the modernist paradigm that emphasizes a top-down approach and thus excludes the voices of the people in the community (Dagsupta & Beard, 2007; DeFilippis, 2010). The CDD approach is characterized by public participation, decentralization, and democratization (Dagsupta & Beard, 2007). While the CDD approach seems to provide a more democratic approach to development, several researchers such as DeFilippis (2010) and Mansuri and Rao (2004) have taken a critical stance on it. They argue that CDD very often does not take into account the existing power relations in the community and thus, only powerful voices can be heard and less powerful voices remain unheard. They also claim that CDD will only work well in a homogenous society, while in a heterogeneous society, it will be quite challenging. Even when the World Bank attempted to include different voices in the community, there was still some resistance from the community. A study conducted by Rejeki (2011) in a small village in Surakarta, Indonesia, demonstrates some of the conflicts of interest that arose in the community due to religious differences. An ECE service that was organized by a
Christian man generated a lot of suspicion from the majority of the Muslim community. Even though the conflict was later resolved, it nevertheless illustrated the resistance to the implementation of the CDD approach.
The CDD approach has also been criticized because of its emphasis on social capital rather than economic capital. DeFilippis (2010) argued that while the problems in rural villages are mostly economic, the solution has always been social. As we have explained above, human capital discourse aimed to reduce the discrepancy between the poor and the rich. Yet, the solution did not consider the economic aspect of the problems. As DeFilippis asserts, for CDD to be run successfully, one must first change the social structure and power relations embodied in a community.
The neoliberal model also promotes the individual freedom that results from the power of rationality. The same pattern can be seen with regard to child-centered discourse. This discourse resonates with neoliberal enlightenment thought that celebrates the individual in a wider society as a single, coherent, and rational subject who is able to make decisions for him/herself (Newberry, 2010). Therefore, even in the educational philosophy adopted by ECE in Indonesia, one can see the influence of neoliberalism. The recognition of ECE as part of the national education system but not as part of free education interestingly gives rise to the role of private organizations and NGOs in running ECE in Indonesia. While the World Bank focuses on developing nonformal ECE in villages, the discourse of human capital in ECE has also been used by private and franchise companies to market their programs to rich families. Middle-class parents in urban areas are engaged in a highly selective process of choosing the right school for their children, since they are required to pay for it (Duncan, 2007); this is seen as a market opportunity. This shows a clear influence of neoliberal discourse in ECE whereby the government allows the market to compete and the consumers (parents) to use their democratic right to choose the most suitable ECE for their children (Finn, Nybell, & Shook, 2010; Woodrow & Press, 2007). As a result, global corporations are penetrating the services of ECE in urban areas in Indonesia with their franchise, curriculum, and program (Newberry, 2010). For example, one global ECE program Gymboree has franchised its programs in Indonesia. Gymboree was established in 1976 by Joan Barnes, a mother from Marin County, California, America. It emphasized playing and music in its curriculum (Gymboree Classes, n.d.). Since then, the program has been franchised all over the world, including in Indonesia. Gymboree obviously appeals to middle-class families, as can be seen from its high fees. As an illustration, the annual fee of Gymboree is Rp2,500,000 (US$201.750). For a once a week program, the fee is Rp525,000 (US$42.3647) monthly, while for twice in a week program, the fee is Rp650,000 (US$52.459) per month, and the fee for three times in a week program is Rp775,000 (US$62.5424). These fees are high, particularly if we compare with the national poverty level at Rp200,262 (US$16.6) per month (The World Bank, 2012). Again, neoliberalism is evident here. As Duncan (2007, p. 321) argues, neoliberal discourse “positioned education as a private good that should be paid for by the individual and asserted that choice and competition was the way to ensure efficiency and the maximum use of resources.”
Thus, while the World Bank established nonformal ECE in villages, nonformal ECE was also flourishing in the big cities in Indonesia. Therefore, the aim of the nonformal ECE to include underprivileged children in ECE services and reduce the inequality between rich and poor children seems to be questioned here. In reality, the human capital rhetoric increases the discrepancy between privileged and underprivileged children.
The practice of the neoliberal government in Indonesia appears to provide greater autonomy to the school, because it allows the market to compete. Yet the government actually shifts rather than reduces its control through the standardization of the curriculum. The government requires all ECE in Indonesia to conform to developmen- talism and to implement a child-centered curriculum. Hence, both developmentalism and child-centered discourse act as a regulatory “gaze” that regulates the teachers and silences other discourses of ECE (Osgood, 2006). As previously argued, child-centered discourse is preferred because it echoes neoliberal principles. ECE eventually becomes a place for micro-politics to happen.
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