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



A focus on the child as an agentic learner is a central feature of the Te Whariki approach. So too are assessment practices that work to empower the child to elaborate their learning competence over time and space in varied sites and practices. Indeed, it is for features such as these that the Te Whariki approach is widely interpreted as a counter-practice that resists the reductive and normalizing features and effects of ECE curriculum underpinned by economic rationales. Moreover, through its inclusion of multiple voices in curriculum enactment, its valuing of cultural diversity, and a recognition of myriad forums for learning, the approach is considered to be one that advances democratic values. In this chapter, in the context of these widespread understandings of the Te Whariki approach, I have sought to consider what, at the level of practice, the approach may be doing. Focusing on learning story assessment practices as enacted curriculum, I have sought to analyze the kinds of self-knowledge and government that are presumed and promoted by the learner- centered pedagogy.

A focus on learning—as an ongoing, culturally situated action—is, as noted, central to the Te Whariki approach. Yet, my analysis of the operation of learning as a key interpretive lens for making sense of the child and the wider world of people, places, and things, raises critical questions about the extent to which a participatory, learner- and voice- based pedagogy such as the Te Whariki approach can be considered a practice that is counter to dominating human capital logics in education. I do not wish to discount the politics of knowledge that the approach, in its championing of cultural diversity and varied social practices as learning sites, seeks to address. Yet, learning as a key mechanism for empowering the child and for addressing the politics of knowledge in curriculum appears, in practice, to animate—and perhaps contribute to—normative and reductive forms of developmentalism. Within the learning- and participation-focused pedagogy, children and adults are, it seems, being called to understand themselves and their surroundings in terms of learning and to govern themselves in calculative and economistic terms. It is, ironically, through the very interpretation of all events and things as potential learning opportunities and through the interpretation of children’s actions—from the minutiae of gestures and movements to their future intentions—as expressions of learning and learning potential that reductive and developmental logics are brought into play.

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