Childhood and education: changes and challenges
Dr Nick Lee
Institute of Education, University of Warwick February 2009
The first section of this paper will describe the child-centred social investment thesis developed by Esping Andersen (2002). This thesis has been a strong influence on UK government educational and child-related policy over the last decade. Some of the resulting current UK policies will be examined, and their success or failure so far will be explored. It is crucial to note that these policies involve the increasing integration of health, welfare and educational resources in the common purpose of increasing children’s social and cognitive capital. This survey ...view middle of the document...
In this period, the publicly funded education of children has been understood as a form of social investment that is expected to mature after roughly twenty years as the young enter the labour market, and to continue to yield dividends 1
for a period of roughly forty years as their working lives continue. Educational investment has taken the form of the shaping of children’s daily activities, their supervision and on-going and summary assessment, and the provision of staff (teachers) and facilities (schools and colleges) respectively to lead and house this process. As a result childhood became, and remains, the most intensively governed section of the life course (Rose, 1989). The dividends of educational investment were expected in the shape of educated adults’ contribution to the well-being of the population as a whole and the maintenance of the popular credibility of the state that organized and synchronised educational investment on behalf of that population. Dividends were expected to take biological, social and economic forms. Educated adults were to bear children and to raise them well in accordance with their physical and psychological needs. Adults who had been through the educational process were expected to be law abiding and to raise their children in accordance with prevalent social norms. Adults were to generate taxable income so that, amongst many other things, the costs of educational investment and subsidies for nonworking adults, including the unemployed, the sick and those retired from the workforce, could be met. Investing in children through education has been key to managing social risk across the life course. The risk of poverty in later life could be reduced by the existence of sufficient numbers of economically active adults. The risk of child neglect could be reduced by state investment in children. The risks of adult criminality and of unemployment could be reduced by good socialisation and preparation for adult life in childhood. The success or failure of this investment scheme rested on a balance between certain demographic factors: mortality rates, birth rates, rates of migration, the presence of a cohort of adults in work, and the ability to finance their own and others’ lives (Borgman, 2005). Decade by decade, various changes in delivery of, and access to, education have adjusted this basic model to suit policy makers’ changing views of social futures – usually meritocratic, often egalitarian - and to make the preparations thought necessary for predicted economic futures (Jones, 2003; Lee, 2005). By the end of the twentieth century, inequalities of gender and of ethnicity, the consequent waste of human resource and resultant social antagonism had begun to join the range of risks education was supposed to tackle. This meant an increased sensitivity to interactions between gender and ethnicity and the functioning of educational institutions as a driver of social equality and...