Inclusion: not simply a matter for education.


Simplification of issues rarely helps when trying to understand complex problems. A number of recent news items in the UK have focused upon the challenges of eradicating child labour, including the negative impact that this has upon education in India. The BBC this morning ran a news item on the radio about child cotton pickers in Andhra Pradesh, and stated that 400,000 children under the age of 18 work on cotton farms across India. Other news reports describe children being taken into domestic service, working in factories, restaurants and even in the mines of Kanataka. According to a recent report by the International Labour Rights Forum based in the USA more than half of these children are under the age of fourteen.

Until quite recently (2012) the India Child Labour (Prohibition and Regulation) Act of 1987, allowed for children under the age of 14 to be employed in “non-hazardous” industries. This was, of course contrary to the Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act (2009) (RTE), which requires all children between the ages of 6 and 14 to attend school.  In August  2012, India’s Union Cabinet implemented legislation banning labour for all children under the age of 14. Yet this remains an issue and many children continue to miss out on education and thereby limit their opportunities for better employment and ultimately a more secure life style.

The situation is grim, and for those of us working in the area of inclusive education it is a source of exasperation. Fundamentally we believe that all children should attend school and receive an education alongside their peers. Quite rightly campaign and human rights groups such as UNICEF have demanded changes and are putting pressure upon national governments in countries where child labour is an issue. In the UK companies that have sold clothing made by child labour have been singled out for negative publicity that has both damaged their profits, and in some instances altered their practices.

But as I said at the outset of this piece, viewing this issue in simple terms may not have the desired effect. Several campaigners, politicians and journalists have emphasised that simply stopping child labour without examining its root causes or addressing the consequences of its eradication is not appropriate. As Karen Graham writing in the Digital Journal  (Feb 7th 2014), has stated that, for many families living in poverty “Work is not an option, but a necessity.” It seems likely that the majority of child labourers are working simply so that their families can survive. Poverty forces them into employment and prevents them from attending school. In situations where families have such low incomes they are dependent on every family member making a contribution to ensure that they can eat and keep a roof over their heads.

An example of the pressures that exist was provided by Vaibhav Ganjapure, a journalist working for The Times of India who wrote (Febr 1st 2014):-

“For Shyamabai Kale, her two daughters help her in washing utensils at many homes”. Shyamabai Kale says  “My husband works in Madhya Pradesh and I remain alone. I can’t leave them at any government school as it involves risk. If they study, when [will] they learn the work necessary for survival?”

India has undergone a period of unprecedented economic growth. Yet for many millions of Indian families their financial situation has not improved and they still find themselves living in poverty. Indeed, it has been suggested that the period of economic expansion may even have contributed to the problem. The head of Bachpan Bacchao Andolan, a Delhi based charity working with children and families has stated that

“This is the most ironical part of India’s growth. The middle classes are demanding cheap, docile labour.”

Sadly, this cheap labour has often been drawn from a juvenile population that would be better served through obtaining education. When India’s economy cools, as it has already begun to do, will this situation get better or worse?

How should we react as teachers to this situation? If we are to become embroiled in campaigns for the right to education and the elimination of child labour, then we must surely be aware of the causes of the problem and demand changes in other areas. Inclusive education must be viewed in the context of wider societal issues. The education we provide must be much broader and must not only be aimed at children. We need to assist families by working with them to see how education can be a route out of poverty. This may be a longer term goal than the immediacy of bringing in an income through child labour, but must be seen as assisting in lifting families above their current difficult situations.

The Right to Free and Compulsory Education Act (RTE) has noble intentions and needs to be enforced as was originally intended. However, this needs to happen alongside other measures of social welfare and awareness raising if this is to happen. As teachers we need to work beyond the classroom to assist families in gaining a greater understanding of the advantages that can accrue from education. We also need to develop more flexible schooling arrangements that recognise that simply telling children that they have to attend school is not working, and find ways to work with families to see what can be done to encourage them to work with teachers for the ultimate benefit of their children and their community. Shyamabai Kale expresses concerns that attending school will not prepare her children to learn “the work necessary for survival”. Perhaps it is time for us to review the kind of education we are offering and to see how Shyamabai Kale can be assisted in recognising that education may not just provide the skills for survival, but also a route to a better standard of living.

2 thoughts on “Inclusion: not simply a matter for education.

  1. Hi Richard,
    No one can deny the fact that child labour in many forms exists in India and it is depressingly extensive yet ignored and rather tactically avoided by a lot of people. So, here, yourself and anyone who joins this discussion is wading into a situation which in real life is more complex than one would imagine primarily for the reason that it is a complicated interplay of personal attitude (some call it callousness while others prefer selfishness), economics and social perceptions (caste?) that creates and perpetuates it in the first place. These factors are so deep rooted and pervasive that time alone will not be able to heal it or change it. Therefore, I believe, as I said in my response to your blog about travel and learning, changing the outlook and mindset is the foundation for any major change in a society like India which is deceptively complex. Although eradicating child labour and providing education to every child is a noble aspiration and necessary, it is be far more challenging than India’s struggle for independence because here we are fighting the enemy within and that is never easy.

    Unlike the west where families in difficult situations are often financially supported, in countries like India, despite a number of provisions, there are not social support systems in place and what little is in place does not offer any realistic assistance to those in need. Added to that there is a vicious circle of misconceptions where people often have more children and make them work to supplement the family income but end up perpetuating the cycle of poverty and lack of education which is not easy to break. There are instances where the sufferer him/herself is t he perpetrator and that is why people like Shyamabai Kale (and her daughters) will need to be convinced that it is not necessarily the only work her daughter can make a living out of – again, easier said than done because of the complexities involved. People (particularly in the rural areas and disadvantaged section of the society) must be convinced that ‘more the merrier’ is not a successful mantra any longer and having more children does not make it better, rather it takes away a lot from a lot of children. And more than anything else, those entrusted with the task of implementing the educational and welfare policies (particularly bureaucrats and officials)should have a more positive outlook, dedication and honest desire to make a change (not in their own bank balance of course).
    I might sound dejected and negative or even a zealot yet painful as it might be, reality check is necessary to understand and address the shortcomings. Sorry Richard if my comment appears longer than your blog.


  2. Hi Benny,
    No problem with the length of your response. Your voice is at least as important as mine and indeed your knowledge of the situation is grounded whereas mine is based upon my regular visits and study.
    There are many important points made in your response. The lack of availability of support such as we have in the UK under our welfare state is an important issue. Since 1945 (the introduction of our welfare system) there have been state funded safeguards for families falling into poverty. Sadly these are now being eroded and I believe will lead to greater UK child poverty in the immediate future.
    We certainly need to empathise with parents such as Shyamabai Kale who are trapped in a vicious circle of poverty and see the need for their children to work in order to survive. As you rightly say, the idea of education as a way out of poverty is not an easy one to sell to people in this situation. It offers a long term solution whilst families are hungry now.
    Your comments on this being a greater battle than the quit India campaign has a grain of truth – after all Gandhi was able to unite India against us Brits and no such figure exists in India today. However, in a country where I now see wealth that was uncommon in India when I first visited 15 years ago, the means of providing for the population is far greater than ever before. There is a need for social action on a grand scale and at present I understand when individuals such as yourself and many of my colleagues in India feel that they are a lone voice. A more organised response is essential if progress is to be made and I believe that those of us working in education are well positioned to speak up on this issue.

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