The root cause of child labour isn’t just poverty
Some readers have asked me about child labour in India. In fact the most recent query was put to me by Suburbanlife. Are the opportunities for education limited? That is what she wonders. And she probably also wonders: Why don’t the parents educate their children? Aren’t there schools in India? Are people so poor that they cannot survive if their children went to school?
Well, the truth is that many parents feel that it’s useless sending their kids to school as there is no guarantee of a job at the end of it. Not because there is a dearth of jobs but because the quality of education provided in municipal schools (where the majority of poor study) is abysmal. The causes for the poor quality of education range from a shortage of teachers, shortage of textbooks, high pupil-teacher ratios and poorly paid teachers. Kids in municipal schools also face more corporal punishment and girls can be sexually harassed.
Is it surprising then that many students drop out and those that stick on cannot even read and write fluently?
As it says here:
The quality of `literates’ of the school system is very low. The actual quantity of schooling that children experience and the quality of teaching they receive are extremely insufficient to any mastery of basic literacy and numeric skills.
In a community based survey of 28 cities and eight rural districts it was found that even relatively educationally advanced states faced this problem.
- Maharashtra: Only 30 per cent of boys and girls in the age group 6-14 could read basic text fluently or do simple arithmetic.
- Two districts of Tamil Nadu (Madurai and Villupuram): Most students lacked functional literacy and numeric skills.
- Two districts of Madhya Pradesh: In most schools visited, few children could read their basic texts fluently. Also those who could read had little comprehension of the text.
While coaching a class of 8th grade students from municipal schools for a year as part of a social service initiative I heard the stories first hand. Listening to the woes of the students is very different from reading about them and it makes one’s heart melt. The children are beaten for trivial reasons, have to suffer absent teachers or simply teachers who don’t teach. The kids manage to pass their exams by learning by rote. Worse, the parents of these children are illiterate, and they do not understand that their kids are getting a poor education. They believe that nothing is wrong with the teaching…or the beatings!
Parents do not see the usefulness of education – for a reason
The only thing that parents understand is that their children will not get a job even if they graduate! My maid told me that she knows many jobless graduates. Education, she told me wisely, is of no use.
It’s a vicious cycle. Lack of skills translates into poverty and poverty forces the parents to place their children in municipal schools.
Frighteningly, she is right. I found these statistics which told me that the chances of being unemployed rises with education! These are 2005 figures but these are statistics from the National Sample Survey Organisation (NSSO) and they say that “there are fewer unemployed among the uneducated and that too among youth in the age group of 15 to 29 years.”
More reasons for the reluctance of parents to educate their children
Our education system, even if the school is not too bad tends to impart theoretical knowledge rather than job-based training. If India is facing an employability crises it is because of this. Our education sector itself is in a crises due to years of poor governance. This Economics Times article says:
Hardly 7 percent of India’s youth (15-29 years) receive any kind of vocational training — and only 2 percent receive it formally. A degree-driven Indian society treats education as a proxy for skill levels…
- 53 percent of employed youth suffer some degree of skill deprivation while only 8 percent of youth are actually unemployed.
- 57 percent of India’s youth suffer some degree of unemployability.
- 90 percent of employment opportunities require vocational skills but 90 percent of our college/school output has bookish knowledge, creating strong supply-demand mismatch.
- High drop out rates [57 percent by Grade 8] are caused by the low returns on education.
- 75 percent of those who finish school make less than Rs 50,000 ( USD 1273) per year.
- Poor quality of skills/education show up in low incomes rather than unemployment
58 percent of graduates makes less than Rs 75,000 per year.
Girls get a worse deal
And if parents feel that it’s useless sending boys to schools one can imagine the plight of girls. After all they have to cook and clean anyway, so why should they study? There are little girls who have to look after younger siblings and do the housework right from the 4th or 5th grade. In my coaching class girls would come in exhausted and actually sleep! They would tell me horror stories (it sounded horrifying to me!) of the work they had to do as both their parents were out working. This is the reason why more girls drop out of school – not just because of parents’ attitudes but also because insensitive teachers ask them why they are studying at all, as they have to wash dishes and sweep floors anyway!
There is also the problem of sexual harassment. As it says here:
A large number of girls in India drop out of the education system around puberty. One of the main reasons parents take girls out of school is the rampant sexual harassment in, and on the way to, school.
This problem had reached a crises situation forcing the government to ban male teachers in primary schools (primary because girls do not realise they are being abused) in Delhi, but I do not know whether this ban has been enforced.
Note: This post is in honour of Childrens Day which was yesterday.
(The pictures are all by me. The first is taken on a highway, the second is of coolies at Mumbai Central station and the third is taken on the streets of Pune)