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

International Outcome Studies

Besides the studies by Heckman and colleagues’ research in other countries is also pertinent to this discussion. A recent study compared efforts to develop early childhood policies and initiatives in four countries, Australia, Canada, England, and the United States (Halfon, Russ, Oberklaid, Bertrand, & Eisenstadt, 2009). Analysis of policies indicate that the governments in Australia and England made strong connections between early childhood programs and national economic productivity “demonstrating, through policy, that children are the country’s future, that their healthy development is central to economic growth and that investment in the early years stand to yield big dividends over the life course” (p. 25).

In Germany the focus on the effectiveness of early education shifted in 2001 when the country experienced “PISA shock” (Oberhuemer, 2012, p. 19). Germany’s ranking among the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries was much lower than anticipated. National discussion ensued and the policies that resulted reflected a school readiness approach to early education. Leu and Schelle commenting on the change of focus note, “Early educational support is expected to help improve Germany’s international competitive edge and at the same time to reduce inequalities of opportunity in education associated with social background and ethnicity” (2009, p. 9).

The emphasis on economic productivity is present in two other recent documents: the European Commission/NESSE (Network of Experts in Social Sciences of Education) report (2009) and the World Bank’s education policy statement (The World Bank, 2011) commonly referred to as WBES 2020. The European Commission/ NESSE report in recognizing the research on long-term gains in young children’s cognitive and emotional outcomes concludes, “At the very least, these economic analyses have been influential in informing policy decisions” (2009, p. 29). Likewise, Verger and Bonal referring to WBES 2020 say, “For the Bank, conceptions of educational development have always been equivalent to educational investments, as a form of capital investment” (2012, p. 137). Education, then, is seen “as a cause of development and never as an effect of social and economic policies” (p. 137; italics original). Such a narrow view of education as development ignores “the social psychological, material and cultural factors that prevent poor children from taking advantage of their school experience” (p. 138). This critique of the human capital approach along with that of the use of cost-benefit analysis for assessing the effectiveness and value of early education will be examined below.

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