The Problem of “the Disadvantaged” and Equality of Initial Opportunity

In all of the policy documents, children coming from low socioeconomic status families are constituted as a particular group that early childhood education programs should target primarily. The early education programs targeting children coming from “disadvantaged social and economic environments” and given a specific name as “early intervention programs” are discussed as “an important instrument in eradicating social and gender based inequities in Turkey” (TUSiAD, 2005, p. 28). The idea of equality in the documents examined is the idea of “equality of opportunity.” As defined by World Bank, “A society offering equal opportunities to its citizen” is “one in which all those circumstances, such as the socio-economic family background or birth place, matter little or nothing in determining life chances . . . [All children] have the same chance to succeed in life” (2010, pp. 4-5). Equality in the documents means the entrepreneurial capacity of individuals to manage and optimize their lives effectively so that they stay competitive and succeed in society. If we could tell that all individuals possess this capacity, the differences in their success then would be explained by their “own drive, effort and, at times, luck” (p. 4).

Children coming from “disadvantaged social and economic environments” are defined as at risk of not realizing their “genetic potential” to be self-managing individuals because of the negative environmental conditions into which they are born and live. Early intervention programs are mentioned as being particularly crucial for Turkey because the majority of children in Turkey, which is also described to be a country “moving to a sustainable economic growth path” (TUSiAD, 2005, p. 118; my translation), live in the disadvantaged environments. Intervention programs are to give these children an (initial) opportunity to build up their entrepreneurial capacity to face adverse conditions effectively and become successful in their education and adulthood. The TUSiAD report writes,

At early ages, children are vulnerable against risks . . . Children who are living in socially and economically adverse environments might not reach their genetic potential . . . Intervention programs aim to close the development gap existing between children who are living in adverse environments and developmentally at-risk and their peers living in more prosperous environments . . . With the help of intervention programs, the negative aspects of the child’s development and environment can be turned to positive ones . . . The goal is to reduce the number of negative factors in the child’s life and to increase the positive ones. If environment-related constraints are few and supportive resources are many, children develop well. Thus, eliminating the constraints and increasing supportive resources is important. Early childhood education is to have a positive influence on the development of children and ensure that they become more successful in their educational life and adulthood. As we take into consideration that the majority of children in Turkey are at-risk because of the conditions in which they live, early childhood educations programs become an important means that contribute to the child’s development. (p. 28; my translation)

The TUSiAD report continues by stating,

In such instances of intervention, supporting families comes up as an important method. In making the child’s environmental conditions supportive for her development, families are important instruments. Families are influential in many areas, from the child’s health to her cognitive development. (2005, p. 28; my translation)

Early education programs designed as intervention programs target not just children but also those parents whose parenting skills are seen less than ideal. Because of their limited parenting skills, these parents, it is argued, fall short in supporting their children’s development, and accordingly, put their children at risk of not realizing their entrepreneurial capacities and staying as outsiders in the competition to succeed. Early childhood education programs, especially, home- based intervention programs, which are represented as the most cost- effective and therefore the most feasible alternative for Turkey (see, e.g., Kagitfibagi, Sunar, Bekman, & Cemalcilar, 2005), are described as a panacea for the problem. These intervention programs are to elevate the skills, knowledge, and capacities of both children and their parents to that of the accepted norm and to ensure that they can manage themselves effectively (through a constant skill acquisition and rational decision making concerning their lives) and compete equally with others in the market.

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