M. Venkatarangaiya Foundation's experiences in elimination of child labour through education
A brief note
The M. Venkatarangaiya Foundation (MV Foundation) has been working on issues relating to working children for the last 10 years in Ranga Reddy district of Andhra Pradesh. The profile of working children in this area is as follows:
MVF's understanding on child labour issuesThe fundamental premise governing the programme of MV Foundation is that "even" in the Indian context child labour is not inevitable. The MV Foundation's experience of removing over 100,000 children from work has shown that there is a deep and inextricable link between universalisation of elementary education and elimination of child labour in India. This has been possible because the MV Foundation operates on the basic principle that every child out of school is a child labourer and does not choose to distinguish between children engaged in different forms of work. The foundation's work therefore is based on the premise that the only way to eliminate child labour is to universalise education and vice-versa. It is in this context that the MV Foundation has been working towards putting children in schools.
A second aspect of the MV Foundation's work arises from the fact that it views universalisation of education as a means to eliminate child labour and that the only form of education that is acceptable is full time formal school education. In this context the organisation does not view such measures as providing non-formal education as viable solutions either for universalising education or for eliminating child labour. MV Foundation's programs therefore revolve entirely around the formal school system.
The MV Foundation has always recognised the fact that for a strategy to be successful it must be replicable. It is for this reason that it has tried to utilise existing institutions to the maximum and has not set up any parallel structures. It has invariably utilised funds available under normal government programs, government schools and other institutions. Again, it has gone out of the way to involve government teacher groups and has been particularly successful in establishing a government teachers' forum against child labour. The involvement of the local community elders and local body representatives has been a conscious strategy on the part of the organisation. Thus while there are a number of new elements in the MV Foundation strategy it is the new processes rather than new institutions which play a key role.
The evolution of the MV Foundation's strategies has been strongly influenced by its appreciation of the fact that parents even belonging to the poorest of the poor have an intense desire to educate their children. It has been found that they have not been able to send their children to school because of poor access to schools. Moreso, the reason of in accessability has been the social, cultural and bureaucratic impediments.
The MV Foundation strategy takes note of the fact that these impediments are real. The strategy therefore relies heavily on motivating parents, easing the problems of enrolment and in general bridging the gap between the household on the one hand and the institution of school on the other. In doing this the MV Foundation programme aims at developing a process where parents despite being illiterate acquire confidence in demanding education for their children and thus harness their latent desire to shift their children away from work.
AchievementsThe MV Foundation has achieved significant successes in the ten or so years of its existence in the area of child labour.
Community ParticipationIn all the activities of the MV Foundation programme there has been a significant and unprecedented participation of the community which includes parents, youth, school teachers, employers, elected representatives, women's groups and the children themselves.
Government School Teachers
ProcessesSystematic extension work has been the key factor in all MV Foundation programs. The first round of discussions has invariably been with the community leaders, youth and parents. In the initial years of its work, however, the MV Foundation activists had to be trained to counter all the normal queries relating to this issue such as
Once initial level discussions are completed the stage is set for the second phase. This phase commences only after the concerned village or area is ready having completed the formation community level committees and resolved the basic issues of whether and if so how many children are to be sent to school. Only those villages, which have shown a commitment to send all the children to school, are considered for the second phase.
In the second phase the task of identification of specific bottlenecks begins. These normally relate to both child labour and primary education. To the extent of child labour they normally relate to the problem of bonded labour, girl children and other children who have already been committed to work for an employer. Here again once discussions are held at the community level based on a detailed village level survey the difficult 'hard core' cases tend to be clearly identified. This enables specific strategies to be worked out for each of these children. In regard to primary education the problems are usually concentrated around lack of adequate infrastructure including manpower. Insufficient space in the school building, and, more important, absence of schoolteacher are issues usually identified as limiting factors. The involvement of the teacher and the local body representative at this stage is crucial. It is at this stage that a greater understanding of the overall process of sending a child to school is achieved at all levels in the community. Teachers are challenged when their performance is not up to the mark and the community is forced to give commitments for improvements in infrastructure and for providing more teachers. The community in general has fulfilled its commitments through
Education StrategyThe MV Foundation strategy is based on the belief that any effort to universalize education and in effect eliminate child labour should aim to cover the entire set of children outside school and not just a limited age segment. It is only by adopting this approach that it would be possible to hit at the acceptability of child labour and promote a child labour free society. As consequence the MV Foundation's strategy specifically aims at the broad spectrum of ages from 5-14 years and has devised different approaches to different age groups. It is in this context that the MV Foundation's program of a bridge course as a means of inducting older children has been formulated. Recognizing the special needs and capacities of older working children the Bridge course ensures that these children are taught the basics of reading and writing in a manner and at a pace which ensures that in a short time, usually 3-4 months, these children are in a position to join others of the same age group already in schools. In the past the absence of such bridge courses forced even the older children to enroll into school at the lowest grade which only served to de-motivate them in the long run. On the other hand, by giving them an opportunity to interact and learn with others of their age group the bridge course is an ideal method for building up the children's confidence and ensuring high motivational levels even after the child joins formal school. Above all the bridge course is instrumental in increasing the parents' confidence in their children and their ability to join school and compete on equal terms with those who have always been in school. The MV Foundation program also incorporates a 3-4 month residential program for running bridge courses for children coming from particularly difficult circumstances such as bonded labour. For those children in the 12-14 years age group the MV Foundation has a special program of coaching them over a one-year period and making them sit for the middle school leaving examination of the 7th grade.
Impact on Government PoliciesThe project has resulted in some significant changes in the pattern of thinking at the government level. In the first place it has brought about a realisation at least at the Andhra Pradesh state that there is wide gap between the expectation of the parents and the availability of educational infrastructure in particular teachers. It has also drawn attention to the fact that there is nothing inevitable about the existence of child labour.
The following policy initiatives have been taken up by the government, mainly drawing from the MV Foundation's experiences:
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