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Home arrow Geography arrow Global Perspectives on Human Capital in Early Childhood Education: Reconceptualizing Theory, Policy, and Practice


In this chapter, we aim to deconstruct the apparently innocent faces of human capital discourse. We first showed some of the politics and confusion that took place within the ECED project in Indonesia. Our objective is to show how ECED was implemented using norms and standards set by the World Bank. The ECED project seems to have become a platform for the World Bank to justify their position by making loans to countries like Indonesia; while for the Indonesian government, having the ECED project supported by the World Bank can be perceived as the government’s attempt to fulfill Dakar’s EFA declaration and MDGs. In reality, however, the project was complicated and perplexing.

We also demonstrated how human capital discourse sustains the neoliberal regime, which, as Penn (2002, 2008, 2011) asserts, instead of removing poverty, in fact perpetuates the inequality between the North and the South. The human capital approach in ECE fails to recognize that this approach not only reduces differences into the sameness but most importantly does not take into account the power relations between different countries in the North and the South.

Human capital discourse is also problematic because it has become an apparatus for governance and surveillance. Through the use of internationally validated instruments, children in some of the poorest villages in Indonesia have been evaluated and judged. Here, not only does the system fail to acknowledge a different construction of childhood, but also it consistently privileges one version of childhood while at the same time marginalizing other forms of childhood. The governmentality does not only regulate the children. We have attempted to show how ECE teachers have always been subject to different education laws. Each law demands conformity.

Parenting practices have also been seen as a source of children’s failure in school and in society. Again, this argument is predicated on the human capital theory. Human capital theory has come together with social capital theory to emphasize the responsibility of the poor people in changing their own destiny. They do not take into account the economic capital that becomes the root of the problem. Instead of trying to solve the problem with an economic solution, they choose to correct the parenting style of the people in the village, which is obviously easier to do and involves less spending by the government. By doing this, the government and the World Bank seem to forget Bernstein’s famous claim that “education cannot compensate for society.” Education can only bring changes to society if followed by changes in the economic and social structures.

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