Home Geography Global Perspectives on Human Capital in Early Childhood Education: Reconceptualizing Theory, Policy, and Practice
Concluding and Moving Forward
Theodora Lightfoot-Rueda and Ruth Lynn Peach
Traditionally scholars and teachers in the field of early childhood education have showed relatively little concern about the impact of calls for education to be a vehicle for developing human capital. Primary and secondary schools have long been expected to impart a particular set of “subject area” skills and knowledge, even if teachers, administrators, and curriculum developers have been subjected to a degree of surveillance and “accountability” that have been steadily growing since WWII and intensifying considerably in the last three decades. Until recently, kindergarten, and, to an even greater degree, preschool teachers have been given greater leeway to teach to the “whole child,” incorporating opportunities for “play-based” learning and the development of “nonacademic” learning, such as the development of social skills and motor skills into the curriculum. In addition, preschool and kindergarten students have not been subjected to the same heavy regimen of standardized testing that has been growing in the academic lives of primary and secondary students.
This situation, which has provided a certain degree of “protected space” for young children and their teachers, has altered radically in recent years. Talking to older preschool and kindergarten teachers, one cannot miss the sense of surprise, and often dislocation, they have encountered due to the “pushdown” of what was previously first- and in some cases second-grade curriculum into kindergartens and even preschools. Advocacy groups, test developers, and policy makers are all insisting that “scientific” or “research-based” instruction for young children is dependent on constant assessment. As the group readingrockets.org states,
Research provides evidence that specific early literacy concepts can predict young students’ later reading achievement . . . These reading concepts include letter knowledge, phonemic awareness, decoding, fluency, and comprehension. An effective reading program includes assessments of all of these concepts . . . One purpose is to identify skills that need review . . . A second purpose is to monitor student progress . . . A fourth purpose is to demonstrate the effectiveness of instruction, . . . and provide feedback on how instruction can be improved. (Reading Rockets, 2014)
In other words, as this website oriented to kindergarten and first grade teachers in the United States suggests, reading instruction (and, by extension other subject matter areas such as arithmetic) are no longer about simple instructional strategies. The instruction of young children is now enmeshed in a larger web of discourse related to assessment, accountability, adequate progress, and the need for educated citizens. Although the source cited above refers to one specific national context, as readers of this book can see, it reflects international trends and concerns.
It is due to this change in global understandings of the role of the education of young children in creating successful students in the upper grades and productive workers in the long term that we felt a book on this topic, from a global perspective, has long been due. We created this collection to showcase the work of some of the most articulate scholars from an international field to explore questions of growing concern to early childhood educators. We hope that after enjoying the work of this carefully selected group of scholars, readers will come away with an enhanced understanding of the growing importance of the language of human capital in early childhood education. We also hope that the wide variety of theoretical and methodological tools provided by the critiques in this collection will give readers a wider understanding of the range of scholars addressing this question and of the importance of dialogue between researchers from different theoretical orientations who too often do not speak to each other.
Reading Rockets. (2014). Early Reading Assessment: A guiding tool for instruction. Retrieved December 19, 2014, from http://www.readingrockets .org/article/early-reading-assessment-guiding-tool-instruction