Universal education

Monday, 13 October 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

With the announcement of the two winners of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, the prize committee pointed to the close connection between problems of education and child labour. In Sri Lanka, the Government estimates 50,000 children do not attend school and time is ticking down for the country to meet this particular Millennium Development Goal. Malala Yousafzai, who was shot by the Taliban for her views when she was 14, is best known for her insistence on the right of girls to education, while Kailash Satyarthi has devoted himself to freeing children who are effectively enslaved. Where children aren’t going to school, it’s often because their parents feel that they need to work in order for the family to survive. In its statement, the Nobel Prize awarding committee noted that an estimated 168 million children are working around the world – 78 million fewer than in 2000. The number who are forcibly prevented from going to school by violent extremists like the Taliban or who are living in bondage is relatively small, and most are probably working by choice. Still, those 168 million children still represent a lost opportunity for the world’s poor countries to develop the knowledge and skills of their labour force and to work toward a more prosperous future. There is also recent research that advocates handing out money to persuade poor families to send their children to school. Not only does the cash make it easier for a family to get by, it has another, less obvious function: as hard evidence that the authorities believe that their children can succeed and that school is worthwhile for them. The most recent report on children without schools was released by the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) last year. The report, ‘Out of School Children in Sri Lanka,’ a country study, stated that Compulsory Attendance Committees should be activated to visit homes to identify children not attending school. These committees should be enabled to take proactive measures to raise awareness among parents and caregivers, on the value of education, and provide support to ensure that children are not deprived of their right to education. It also recommended that, as many studies have observed it is difficult to exit poverty without an education to at least GCE Ordinary Level standard, a scholarship scheme at the end of Grade 9 should be introduced with donor assistance to assist children with recognised ability, in economically disadvantaged families, to continue their studies without having to engage in economic activities. UNICEF’s report also suggested that compulsory education regulations and ancillary policies such as alternative provisions for admission of children without birth certificates and prohibition on the levying of school admission fees/donations should be strictly enforced. Assistance should be obtained to extend the school meals program to secondary schools in disadvantaged locations. If education is to compensate for poverty to some extent, education programmes should focus directly on vulnerable groups, to meet their specific needs for assistance, in order to facilitate their access to education. Unfortunately, given the myriad of problems facing Sri Lanka’s education sector, this sort of assistance is unlikely. For the moment Grama Sevakas and Divisional Secretaries island-wide have been instructed to submit names of children not attending school and assist the District Secretary compile a list to find schools in their respective areas but the Education Ministry does not have long-term plans to ensure these children will stay in school.