The Power of Return Rate Graphs

In the TUSIAD report, the work from 2003 by James Heckman, the Nobel Prize winning economist, and his colleague, Pedro Carneiro, is another authoritative text assembled in the advocacy of early childhood education. The report refers to two graphs by Heckman and Carneiro, not reproduced here for copyright reasons but whose significance is discussed below. The two graphs by Heckman and Carneiro especially have a particular importance to the report. These graphs illustrate that spending on preschool years does not just bring high returns. The graphs show in the most “direct” and “obvious” way that spending on early years also brings a greater return than spending on later stages. Heckman and his colleague’s graphs are given an increasing credence in later reports by different agencies. “Ekonomik ve Toplumsal Kalkinma if in Erken ?ocukluk Egitimi” by AQEV (2007) and “Expanding and Improving Early Childhood Education in Turkey” by World Bank (2013) use their graphs in order to make a case for why early childhood education is important. In Foucault’s words (1980), Heckman and his colleague’s graphs become a “regime of truth” that determine what could be thought and said about early education and children. In the most direct and unmediated way, they communicate, naturalize, and maintain the idea of preschool education to be a high-return economic investment and normalize the idea that individuals are investable subjects.

The first graph cited in the report illustrates the greater return in human capital that investment in the preschool years produces, when compared to investments in older age groups. As the sweeping downward curve indicates, as explained in the TUSIAD report, “Investment in early years in life produces higher returns. That proves the necessity for human development and economic growth, that the investment in human capital be intensified during early childhood years” (TUSIAD, 2005, p. 35; my translation). The graph involves another curve that joins human capital theory with the discourse of brain development. This second curve demonstrates the rate of brain development at different stages of life—faster in the preschool years and showing no significant change in school years or in adulthood. This line functions as a “natural” explanation for why early education provides the highest return on investments: “As human beings age, after school years, the return rate on investments in human capital gradually decreases. The most important reason for this decrease is the development process of human brain. The human brain develops faster in the preschool stage. That is why the investments made during this stage provide the highest returns” (p. 32; my translation).

While the Heckman and his colleague’s graphs provide justifications for a call for comprehensive early childhood education policies, they are also utilized for judging and evaluating the government’s other “investments.” The second graph used in the report involves two lines. The first line shows the rate of the return on investment in human capital over a lifetime trajectory; the latter is the actual level of investment in education over the same trajectory. The inverse relationship between the two lines is presented as the most concrete proof of the fact that the government’s “entrepreneurial” choices are not made wisely. The report writes, “According to this [second graph], investments should be highest during preschool years. As individuals get older, the investment in human capital should be continued at a lower rate during the school years and then gradually decreased after the school years” (TUSi AD, 2005, p. 35; my translation). The World Bank brings up a similar concern about the mismatch between these two lines. In order to create a fiscal space for early education programs, especially for programs targeting children coming from disadvantaged environments, the World Bank calls for “reviewing the current functioning and financing of the Turkish welfare state” (2010, p. xii). One of its suggestions is restructuring the financing of social security for older people. According to the reports, human capital investment decisions should be based upon the individual’s human capital potential with which life and individuals are segregated according to whether they are at promise of economic growth and competition or not. Children are seen as investment-ready and entrepreneurial sites for the government as they are calculated as possessing high human capital potential and yielding high economic return.

 
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