This blog was prepared under the ECLT Foundation’s under the Policy and Advocacy portfolio.
12 June marks World Day Against Child Labour (WDACL), a unique opportunity to draw the world’s attention to the fact that 168 million children worldwide continue to be engaged in child labour, as per a recent report by the International Labour Organization (ILO). The International Labour Organization (ILO) draws attention every year to key aspects of the root causes of child labour, as well as to the policies and actions that can make a difference in eliminating it. This year’s featured theme is ‘NO to Child Labour, YES to Quality Education!’.
The Linkage Between Quality Education and the Elimination of Child Labour
Child labour often is the result of a number of complex factors primarily including poverty, a decent work deficit for adults, poor social protection and the lack of accessible quality education. In a world where 168 million children remain involved in child labour, 85 million of which in hazardous work, access to quality education is critical for the elimination of child labour, not only as it physically removes children from the workplace and puts them in school, but also because quality education is what is needed to break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy that often generate the need and the circumstances under which children are sent to work. Conversely, access to quality education has the power of enabling children and young adults to access safe, decent employment opportunities when they reach working age and lift them and their families out of poverty. ILO Convention 138 on the Minimum Age for Employment creates a strong link to education as it says that minimum age for employment shall not be less than the age of completion of compulsory schooling, and in any case not less than 15. However, only 60% of states have aligned their policies setting the age for the completion of compulsory education and minimum age for access to employment, which leaves in a vacuum many children aged in between the two. This is why the focus of the 2015 ILO World Report on Child Labour (forthcoming) will be on facilitating the transition from school into work and in fighting hazardous child work especially for children aged 15-18, a theme which is at the heart of the projects and policy interventions of ECLT Foundation. Given the critical role of quality education in ensuring that children are safe, out of child labour, reaching their greatest potential and positively contributing to the society and the economy at large, what is the current state of access to quality education and what are the challenges ahead?
Universal School Attendance Greatly Progresses, but Universal Access to Education MDG is Missed
Almost fifteen years ago, in September 2000, world leaders had gathered at the United Nations at turn of the Millennium to resolve to join forces with civil society and the private sector with a view to eradicate poverty, hunger and disease and had fixed 8 main targets, called the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs): MDG 2 was ‘Achieve Universal Primary Education’. In 2015 the MDGs have come of age and are currently being reviewed against the targets that were set. In the case of education, a fundamental human right, even if thanks to the MDG focus policy makers embraced pro-education policies like never before and unparalleled amounts of aid were mobilized, it is already clear that the target has not been reached. Here are some key facts according to the latest (2014) UNDP assessment of the MDGs:
- Impressive progress has been made in securing access to education children: net enrolment rates for Sub-Saharan Africa made the biggest leap passing from 60% in 2000 to 78% in 2012; South Asia rose from 78% in 2000 to 94% in 2012; and the overall developing world rates passed from 83% to 90% in the same time span.
- Overall literacy rates for the population 15-24 increased globally from 83% in 1990 to 89% in 2012.
- 58 million children remain out of school (2012), half of which are concentrated in conflict-affected areas.
- 781 million adults and 126 million youth worldwide lack basic literacy skills – of which 60 percent are women – pointing out to the fact that enrollment in itself is hardly telling about education outcomes.
- School participation and inclusion rates very much depend on disparities in gender, place of residence, and income. For instance, in Sub-Saharan Africa, only 23 percent of poor, rural girls complete their primary education. That percentage drops further when it comes to disabled and disadvantaged children.
- The achievement of universal primary education requires not only enrollment but also attendance and completion of a full education cycle, and the rate of pupils from the developing world completing a full education cycle between 2000-2011 remained stable at 73%.
- Demographic growth remains a key challenge to achieve universal education: Sub-Saharan Africa moved its enrollment rates from 60% in 2000 to 78% in 2012: at the same time the number of children in the same region that needed to be enrolled in school increased by 35%.
Enrollment, Attendance and Achievement: The Challenge of Attaining Universal Quality Education
In spite of these major achievements realized in enrollment, regular course attendance, programme completion and effective learning outcomes remain a challenge: as Eric Hanushek, Economics of Education expert at Stanford University recently put it in the New York Times “we’ve made substantial progress around the globe in sending people to school. But a large number of people who have gone to school haven’t learnt anything”. For instance, according to the Africa Learning Barometer of the Center for Universal Education at the Brookings Institute, “in Sub-Saharan Africa, half of the total primary school population – 61 million children – will reach adolescence without the basic skills needed to lead successful and productive lives”. Accessing education and sitting in class does not equals acquiring relevant knowledge and mastering key skills needed by every person needs to actively and inclusively take part to society and to the economy through decent employment. Only universal quality education that enables the achievement of basic skills can do that, and in a rapidly evolving world economy increasingly based on services and information, the bar has already shifted to achievements in secondary school. The economic implications of securing universal access to quality education are clearly positive: countries – especially low-income ones – can greatly boost their future GDP, innovation, as well as people’s disposable income – as long as there are effective transmission and redistribution mechanisms in place – when they secure universal access to quality education resulting in significant learning outcomes. But how is ‘quality education’ defined and how can it be measured across the globe? What policies have to be put in place to secure that children not only access their fundamental right to fair, universal access to education but that the education they receive is of such quality and delivered under such conditions that they can proactively use the skills they gain for their employability and income generation, hence breaking the cycle of poverty and addressing key root causes of child labour as poverty and illiteracy?
Meeting the Goal of Universal Quality Education: What It Takes
Since 2000, the Organization for Economic Development and Cooperation (OECD) has developed the so-called Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a uniform testing methodology for the assessment of learning outcomes in education. PISA Level 1 corresponds to modern functional literacy, especially in mathematics, reading comprehension and science. The OECD is advocating for the inclusion of PISA as a measure of quality education outcome underpinning the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on Education meant to succeed the MDGs as of 2015 for the next 15 years, setting a new benchmark in 2030. According to the OECD, in order to be effective the Education SDG currently formulated as “Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all” has to include meaningful and realistic learning targets to be assessed on the basis of a worldwide agreed method to measure progress such as PISA.
Besides learning outcome measurement, quality education very much depends on teachers’ training and professional development, pedagogical standards, the relevance of teaching curriculums, the quality of school infrastructures and teaching facilities – including distance and access to affordable transportation facilities, the attractiveness and retention of the teaching profession, and pupil/teacher ratios. According to UNESCO’s latest Education for All: 2000-2015 Report, “in one-third of the countries with data, less than 75% of primary school teachers are trained up to national standards”. How can quality education be pursued and achieved then? Here are some key actions that need to be rapidly upheld if the challenge of universal quality education is to be met in 2030:
- Prioritize investment in free, public, quality education: national governments, regional and multilateral organizations need to focus their political will and reprioritize education in their political agendas and budgets, says Julia Gillard, former Australian Prime Minister and current Chair of the Global Partnership for Education (GPE). At a time when development aid to education has fallen by almost 10% since 2010 – faster than overall development assistance the dropped by 1.3% – it is crucial for states to secure as much as possible endogenous, sustainable resources to invest in education of their children and future workforce: estimates consider that 4% of national GDP would be a minimum investment threshold to attain universal quality education by 2030.This will dramatically pay back in economic growth, especially for developing countries. Investment in education includes building public schools that are safe, sustainable, adapted to the local community, include decent, gender-separate sanitation facilities for boys and girls, access to clean drinking water and nutritious lunch meals and ensuring that all pupils – even those from the most disadvantaged households – have access to the materials (books, paper, writing tools, uniforms, school bags, shoes etc.) necessary to effectively take advantage of quality education opportunities.
- Mainstream the universal quality education agenda into the international development and humanitarian agenda: To achieve the target of universal quality education, there is a need to find 22 billion USD annually to invest by 2030. Initiatives like the GPE are a strong catalyst for raising funds and promoting sound education policies and systems, acting as a multi-stakeholder dialogue, cooperation and fundraising platform bringing together governments, teachers, civil society, the private sector, multilateral organizations and donors. Since 2002, the GPE has collected and allocated 4.3 billion USD since 2002 to partnering developing countries which pledged to increase their domestic education budgets. The World Bank has also recently committed 5 billion USD to improving the quality of education, under the condition of meeting agreed targets.
- Secure decent work, social dialogue and lifelong professional development for teachers: teachers are key to quality education and to instill a culture of civic citizenship. As Education International (EI) the global trade union confederation representing 30 million teachers worldwide holds it, quality education can only be generated when there are enough qualified, skilled and motivated teachers and education professionals that exercise in an environment that is conducive of high learning outcomes, values their role in society, are adequately remunerated and have a say through social dialogue with government on education policies, including salaries and conditions.
- Business can help. While the provision of universal quality education should continue to be public business as part of the state duty to guarantee human rights, business can support the delivery of quality education in many ways: while keeping the focus on the fact that universal access to quality education is a human right and that its actions have to be aligned with national education priorities, business can donate and channel resources to primary education providers of low-income countries through multilateral, collective platforms such as the GPE; advocate for quality education as a key investment for the future labour market pool; provide vocational training opportunities or help deliver learning materials to remote and disadvantaged areas through its logistics systems.
These and additional issues have been discussed and addressed at the UNESCO World Forum for Education (WEF) 2015 that concluded on 22 May at Incheon, Korea, and launched the Declaration on Education 2030 and its Roadmap that will be officially adopted in November 2015 and will become the core document underpinning the Education targets for the SDGs. Additional key recommendations that emerged from the Forum include the following:
- In order to be inclusive and a human right, education has to be free. Malala Yousafzai, Nobel Peace Prize 2015, called on leaders gathering at the WEF 2015 on ensuring 12 years of free quality education to all children, as this was especially critical for the access of girls to education, 65 million of which are still out of school.
- Quality certainly has to be the next focus for global education goals: yet GPE’s Julia Gillard reminds that the focus on inclusiveness and quality education have to be simultaneously pursued, since there still are 58 million children who are not getting access to primary education, 30 million of which are found in Sub-Saharan Africa.
- Schools need to be made a safe place. The UN Special Envoy for Education Gordon Brown, among the promoters of the Safe Schools Initiative, reminded that no child or teacher should have to risk their lives to access or deliver a fundamental human right like education. Between 2009 and 2014 schools were the target of terrorist or violent attacks in at least 70 different countries. Inclusion in quality education means that the global education community must pay special attention to children in crisis, disaster and war zones, as under such circumstances they are highly likely to drop out from school or never access it, getting instead into child labour, or becoming the target of violence or abuse.
The Promotion of Quality Education as a Means to Eliminate Child Labour in ECLT Foundation Projects, Policy and Advocacy
Cognizant of the fact that quality education is an essential factor to address the root causes of child labour, the ECLT Foundation has made quality education and vocational training a priority under its projects, policy and advocacy activities, as well as partnerships. Quality education it is a permanent component of all ECLT Foundation-funded projects under Immediate Objective 2: “Improve access to quality education and other basic social services at district and community level”. This objective is pursued in all ECLT Foundation-funded projects, mostly by enhancing school attendance and performance by improving the learning environment of children at school. The table below illustrates how this objective is currently being pursued in ongoing ECLT Foundation projects and the accomplishments so far:
Project and Target Country
|Achievements to improve access to quality education and other basic social services at district and community level in the target areas|
|Implementing Practices to Address Child Labour in Tobacco (IMPACT), Kyrgyzstan||Classrooms and canteens renovations.|
|Realizing Effective Actions for Children Together (REALIZE), Mozambique||Homework support clubs and school libraries established. Community mobilized and participated to school infrastructures renovations.|
|Promoting Sustainable Practices to Eradicate Child Labour in Tobacco (PROSPER), Tanzania||After-school programming and mentoring: 77% of After-school program beneficiaries successfully passed their exams and made it to secondary schools.|
|Child Labour Elimination Actions for Real Change (CLEAR), Malawi||Construction and renovation of classrooms, toilets and sanitation facilities separated by gender. 60 reading camps established and functional. 384 out-of school-children and 3’216 children attending reading camps.|
|Realizing Livelihoods Improvement through Savings and Education (REALIZE), Uganda||Classrooms renovated and new classrooms built. Provision of toilets and sanitation facilities separated by gender. Creation of youth/children clubs with sport equipment, musical instruments and costumes to hold music, dance and drama classes and performances at school and in the community (promotion of complementary artistic, traditional and non-formal quality education).|
Additional improvements that have taken place in ECLT Foundation projects include the rural community mobilization to build a good house for the local teacher (CLEAR, Malawi) and to ensure that pupils have a free, nutritious lunch by getting the local volunteers to work on rotation on the school vegetable gardens that provide food for the school canteen (REALISE, Uganda). The ECLT Foundation’s Key Intervention Projects (KIPs) have all a focus on securing a safe school-to-work transition: in Guatemala this is translating into securing that children of the La Maquina District complete their primary compulsory education cycle and can access quality secondary education including vocational training that is relevant to the local rural labour market. In Malawi and Zambia, securing safe work in agriculture for young workers in targeted tobacco-growing communities.
In addition, a policy priority for the ECLT Foundation is promoting access to quality education for marginalized children, such as orphans, disabled children, children of immigrants working in tobacco growing areas and other hard-to-reach children. All ECLT Foundation projects work with target-areas communities to identify such children, re-enroll them in school, and equip teachers with pedagogical skills to get the best out of them. With equal opportunity, these children can realize their potential and break the cycle of poverty that could otherwise condemn their generation. In terms of supporting teachers, as of 2013, ECLT Foundation joined EI’s call for quality education on 5 October, World Teacher’s Day, recognizing that decent working conditions and quality, lifelong professional training for education employees are a cornerstone in the achievement of universal quality education and in the fight against child labour. The ECLT Foundation regularly includes reaching out and partners with teachers’ unions within its project approach, and an ECLT Foundation implementing partner delegation composed of representatives of PROSPER (Tanzania), CLEAR (Malawi) and REALISE (Uganda) will take part to EI’s Workshop for the African Region ‘Developing the capacity of education unions to engage in initiatives eradicating child labour’ that will take place in Accra, Ghana 10-12 June 2015, with a view to exploring avenue for enhanced cooperation in project countries in the region.