Chapter IV: Access to Primary Education
This chapter discusses issues relating to access to primary education in the 16 countries studied in this report. Section B of this chapter describes the education laws and policies of the 16 countries studied in this report. Section C presents the most recent education data available for these countries, including data on educational attainment and government expenditures on education. Factors limiting access to primary education are discussed in section D. Finally, section E outlines a number of government initiatives intended to overcome limitations to access and increase primary school accessibility, enrollment, retention, and completion.
Universal primary education is widely recognized as one of the most effective instruments for combating child labor. It is believed that no country can successfully eliminate child labor without first enacting and implementing compulsory education legislation.1 Schooling removes children from the work force and provides them with an alternative use of their time.2 Quality basic education, particularly at the primary level, not only improves the lives of children and their families, but contributes to the future economic growth and development of a country.3 Despite the benefits of education, about 20 percent--or 145 million--of the world's children six to 11 years old (85 million girls and 60 million boys) are out of school.4 Most of these children are thought to be working.5
There are a number of reasons why children work instead of attending school. In many countries, primary education is neither compulsory nor free, and schools are not available to all children. When schools are available, the quality of education offered is frequently poor, and many children and their families view the content as irrelevant to their lives. In cases where working children contribute to family income, parents may believe that the opportunity cost of sending their children to school is simply too high.6 The reluctance of parents to send their children to school is exacerbated by the direct and indirect costs of education, such as fees, supplies, books, uniforms, meals, and transportation. To be effective in eliminating child labor, education must be useful, accessible, and affordable.
This section describes the education laws and policies of the 16 countries studied in this report and their consistency with the child labor laws discussed in Chapter III. Education and child labor laws should not only reinforce but also complement one other. Education laws and policies can reinforce child labor laws by keeping children in schools and away from the work place. Child labor laws, in turn, can be a useful tool for retaining children in school, helping governments achieve their universal basic education objectives.7 International standards on child labor have made this link by encouraging countries to make admission into the work force conditional on completion of compulsory education. ILO Convention No. 138 establishes the minimum age for employment at not less than the age for completing compulsory schooling and in no event less than 15 years of age.
Twelve of the 16 countries studied have national laws that make primary education compulsory: Bangladesh, Brazil, Egypt, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Tanzania, Thailand, and Turkey.8 A number of these countries, including Egypt, South Africa, and Turkey, have recently passed laws extending their years of compulsory education. The number of years of schooling required varies from country to country (see Table IV-1).
Table IV-1: Compulsory Education and Minimum Working Age
In Kenya,23 India,24 Nepal,25 and Pakistan,26 there are no national laws establishing mandatory schooling. However, in India and Pakistan, some state or provincial governments have enacted legislation that makes primary education compulsory. In India, 14 of the 24 states and four Union territories have compulsory education laws.27 In Pakistan, the governments of the North West Frontier and Punjab provinces have enacted compulsory education legislation.28 In Nepal, while there is no compulsory schooling, primary education is free for all children between the ages of six and 12.29 Education is not free in Kenya, India, or Pakistan.
Nine of the 12 countries with compulsory education laws have provisions in those laws that make education essentially free in public schools; that is, students are not charged school tuition fees: Brazil, Egypt,30 Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, Thailand, and Turkey. The other three countries with compulsory education laws (Bangladesh, Guatemala, and Tanzania) have no provisions making education free; parents may be required either to pay school tuition fees or to pay partially for the cost of their children's education.
1. Education and Child Labor Laws
Only three of the 16 countries (Brazil, Mexico, and South Africa) have complementary education and child labor laws, i.e., laws where completion of compulsory schooling is harmonized with the minimum legal working age (see Table IV-1).
Nine countries have education and child labor laws that are inconsistent with each other:
Despite the compulsory education laws and policies outlined in the previous section, the provision of universal primary education remains a major challenge for many of the countries studied in this report. This section presents the most current data available on enrollment, attendance, and retention of children in primary school. It also compares government expenditures on education.
While educational statistics in many countries suffer from significant weaknesses, the data described in this section represent the best measures available for analyzing the effectiveness of national education systems in providing universal primary education. The information presented here is intended to establish a baseline for future analysis.
The following sections provide detailed data on educational attainment and government expenditure on education. Much of the information discussed in these sections, including Tables IV-2 and IV-3 below, was obtained from UNESCO, UNICEF, and the World Bank, and supplemented by data collected during site visits to the 16 countries studied in this report.
1. Educational Attainment
This section presents data on educational attainment, including primary school enrollment, attendance, and completion rates. While there are several ways to measure a country's success at providing education at the primary level, the most common are primary school enrollment and attendance ratios. Net primary school enrollment ratios describe the percentage of primary school-age children who are registered in school. Primary school attendance ratios estimate the percentage of primary school-age children that are actually attending school.
When reviewing educational attainment data, it is important to note that both enrollment and attendance estimates can suffer from serious shortcomings in terms of accuracy and comparability between countries.31 It should also be noted that neither measure addresses the issue of education quality and its effect on school enrollment, attendance, and the benefit children derive from their schooling.
Another important indication of a school system's ability to attract and retain students is its student retention rate (or completion rate), which gives the percentage of enrolled children who reach a certain grade level.32
Table IV-2 presents the most recent data available on primary school enrollment, attendance, and retention rates for the 16 countries studied in this report. As the table illustrates, for some countries the goal of universal primary education still remains distant.
Table IV-2: Educational Attainment Indicators
Primary school enrollment ratios appear to be high in several of the countries studied for this report. Brazil, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, South Africa, and Turkey all have primary school enrollment rates of 90 percent or more. In some of these countries, however, many children who are enrolled in school are not actually attending.
In some of the countries studied, a large percentage of school children do not complete their primary education.
2. Expenditures on Education
This section uses government expenditures on education as a measure of a country's commitment to achieving universal primary education. While spending levels may have little or no connection to a country's ability to attract, retain, and educate school age children, they do provide an indication of a country's relative emphasis on education as compared to other national priorities.
National expenditure on education is analyzed both as a percentage of a country's gross national product and as a percentage of total government expenditures.44 An additional measure, the percentage of educational expenditures devoted to primary education, is used as an indication of the priority a country places on providing universal primary education.
Table IV-3: Educational Financial Indicators
In many of the countries visited, expenditures on education appear to have either increased or remained stable in recent years. In some countries, however, significant additional resources have been allocated to education spending.
A decrease in education spending as either a percentage of GNP or total government expenditures was apparent in only a few countries.
As noted earlier in this section, the quality of educational statistics in many countries have significant shortcomings. These shortcomings could be overcome by a coordinated effort to standardize reporting and collection methods worldwide. Education data presented in this section could form the basis for future study of countries' educational attainment and commitment to primary universal education. To further analyze the availability of primary education in the countries studied in this report, the following two sections discuss the scope and coverage of education laws and policies as well as factors limiting children's access to and attendance of primary education.
Although many of the countries visited for this report have enacted education legislation, significant impediments to achieving universal access to primary education remain. This section discusses some of the factors that prevent children's access to and/or successful completion of primary schooling. Work is one factor that can constitute a major impediment to children's attendance and successful completion of primary school. Working children have low enrollment and high absenteeism and dropout rates. This may be attributable to fatigue from long hours of labor, injuries and illnesses, and work schedules that conflict with school hours.
Another major obstacle is inadequate educational infrastructure and services. Schools may not be available or they may be inadequate. When schools do exist, long distances, poor roads, and lack of transportation may render them inaccessible. Teachers may be underpaid, may lack the necessary training or qualifications, and in some cases may not even show up for classes.55 In addition, poor families may perceive that what their children learn at school does not provide them with useful skills.56
In many countries, direct and indirect costs of education also represent significant barriers.57
School fees can be high, leading poor and marginalized families not to send their children to school. Even if free education is provided, in many cases the costs of school supplies, books, uniforms, meals, and transportation may be prohibitive to poor families. The opportunity costs of education--in the form of a child's foregone earnings and on-the-job work experience--may be a further factor in a family's decision not to send children to school.
Finally, access to education is often not equitable. Children in rural areas and those belonging to marginalized groups are frequently more affected by a lack of adequate educational infrastructure. The following sections describe in greater detail the barriers created by the premature entry of children into the work force, the lack of educational infrastructure and services, and the impediments faced by children in rural areas and those in certain gender and ethnic groups.
1. Work and Schooling
Work is often a major barrier to a child's pursuit of an education. In many cases, child workers do not enroll in school or drop out before completion. Some child laborers drop out because extreme fatigue prevents them from completing their homework or attending classes. Falling behind in school work, they may become frustrated and experience feelings of inadequacy.58
There appears to be a strong relationship between child labor and absenteeism or irregular school attendance. In many of the countries studied for this report, high absenteeism and dropping out are particularly chronic among working children in rural areas, where barriers to access and irrelevance of education create further disincentives to school attendance:59
2. Lack of Educational Infrastructure and Services
Overcrowded classrooms, long distances to schools, high student-to-teacher ratios, lack of school supplies such as desks, chairs, chalk, and blackboards, and lack of rest rooms (particularly for girls) can all limit access to primary education. In many of the countries studied for this report, a lack of basic educational infrastructure was cited as a barrier to primary school attendance and student retention:
3. Education in Rural Areas
In rural areas, universal education is often undermined by impediments to access and the low quality of available schooling. Rural areas tend to lack the educational infrastructure (including schools and teachers) generally available in urban areas. Children are less likely to enroll in school and more likely to drop out prior to completing their education. Parents from rural areas, particularly farming communities where children work in subsistence agriculture, are more apt to view formal education as irrelevant to their children's future.
Literacy rates provide an indication of the disparities between rural and urban education. In Guatemala, for example, about 35 percent of the total population is illiterate compared with 82 percent of the rural population.77 In Pakistan, nearly 42 percent of urban residents are illiterate in comparison with 72 percent of rural residents.78
4. Gender and Ethnicity Issues
Gender and ethnicity are other factors that can limit access to primary education and affect completion rates. Girls face many obstacles in pursuing an education, including the traditional attitudes about female roles and a lack of female teachers. They are often expected make a critical contribution to household work and child care.79 Unable to attend school because of low social status or domestic responsibilities, girls are frequently denied the advantages of an education.80 Indeed, girls constitute two-thirds of all children not attending school.81 In many of the countries studied in this report, girls receive less education than boys.
Ethnic issues also affect school enrollment and attendance. In the 16 countries which are the focus of this report, certain ethnic groups and lower castes often have less access to education. This may be attributed to discrimination, cultural beliefs about the importance or relevance of education, and the fact that some of these groups work and live in remote areas.
When gender and ethnicity issues are combined, the educational disparities are even greater. In India, for example, nearly all upper-caste Hindu children are enrolled in and attend school, but there is a strong tendency for girls of "backward" castes and tribes, low-caste Hindus, and Muslims not to attend school.90
This section describes education initiatives aimed at overcoming some of the impediments to educational attainment in order to increase primary school enrollment, retention, and completion rates. It focuses on educational efforts by governments--that, after all, have the principal responsibility for the formal, primary-level education of children. Initiatives described include efforts to improve primary school infrastructure and increase children's access to primary education through provision of free schooling, school meal programs, free transportation, flexible school hours, flexible locations, and economic incentives.
1. Improvements in
As discussed previously, a lack of facilities, teachers, and materials often creates barriers to primary school enrollment, attendance, and completion. Some of the countries studied for this report have developed initiatives to make schools more accessible and improve the quality of primary education, especially in remote or rural areas.
The Brazilian Ministry of Education and Sports has implemented a number of initiatives to increase primary school attendance and improve education quality. In 1997, the Livro Didático project invested 159 million reais (US$ 142.5 million) in the acquisition of books to be distributed in primary schools throughout Brazil. The program "TV Escola" provides training for primary school teachers in remote areas. More than 79 million reais (US$ 73.1 million) have been spent on this project, and about 50,000 schools have received technical kits that include satellite dishes, television sets, video cassettes, and tapes.91 In addition, the Fund for the Development of Primary Education and Teacher Improvement was created to increase the extremely low wages paid to teachers.92
Municipal governments implementing special projects to prevent and eliminate child labor can also obtain federal funds to build and improve public schools and provide public transportation for students.93 Since providing a place in school for every child in the nation has become a national priority, the federal government is facilitating the transfer of educational funds to state and municipal governments, which are responsible for providing the necessary resources (facilities and teachers) at the primary level.94 Article 60 of Constitutional Amendment no. 14 requires states and municipalities to allocate at least 60 percent of their education spending to primary schooling.95
In Egypt, the Ministry of Education has been building one-classroom schools at an accelerated pace to encourage working children and school dropouts in rural communities to attend school. About 8,500 new schools have been built in poor rural communities in the last five years. Training of teachers has also become a priority.96
Based on official Philippine government data, it appears that school facilities in the Philippines are insufficient to cover the country's entire school-age population, a factor which contributes to low enrollment, particularly in areas with high child labor rates.97 Since 1990, however, the Department of Education, Culture, and Sports (DECS) has been implementing the Multigrade Program in Philippine Education to increase the number of elementary and high schools in villages/precincts (barangays) where there is a need. Under the program, DECS organizes "incomplete elementary schools" (multigrade classes of 30 to 40 students under one teacher) in areas where monograde classes are not feasible owing to limited enrollment in certain grades or to classroom and teacher shortages.
In the school year 1995-96, DECS established an additional 900 elementary schools, finished 1,880 incomplete elementary schools, and established 52 public high schools in municipalities where there had been none.98 According to DECS, five years ago about one-quarter of all barangays (12,000) were without primary schools; today, only one-eighth (6,000) are still without one.99
The Turkish Ministry of Education has established a program that provides for eight years of compulsory schooling. During the current school year, approximately US$ 304 million were spent on the program.100 Reportedly, there have been about 670 primary schools opened and 1,930 new teachers appointed throughout the country. Despite the increased spending, concerns continue to be raised about whether the current educational infrastructure will accommodate eight years of compulsory education. Many provinces and villages lack desks, chalk, blackboards, chairs, and even classrooms, schools, and teachers.101
2. Alternative Education for Working Children
A variety of programs provide alternative educational opportunities for working children, including back-to-school programs and flexible school schedules. A number of governments have implemented such programs to make schooling more accessible to working children and other disadvantaged groups.
a. Back-to-School Programs
Some countries are experimenting with back-to-school programs encouraging working children and adolescents to attend or complete primary school and easing their transition from work to school. Some examples follow.
Andhra Pradesh, the state with the highest number of working children in India, is implementing a program to place working children in schools.102 In April 1997, the Andhra Pradesh Social Welfare Department initiated a pilot back-to-school-program for all 23 districts in the state, wherein hostels operated by the department are converted into "camp schools" for two months each year. The program identifies and enrolls children who never enrolled in school or who have dropped out early. Special emphasis is placed on bonded children, children working as domestic servants, and children from lower castes and tribes or other socially disadvantaged backgrounds.103 Each hostel has approximately 100 students and five teachers.104 Children attend class for an average of six hours per day. Following classes, they participate in cultural activities, games, and athletic activities. In its initial phase in 1997, the program enrolled 37,000 children in schools; the Social Welfare Department plans to enroll 100,000 students each year in the future.105 About 74 percent of the students enrolled in the camps were subsequently admitted to formal schools.106
The Nicaraguan Ministry of Education has initiated an innovative education program called Extra Age (Extra Edad) to serve children and adolescents who are unable to complete their primary school education on the normal age and grade track. Classes are taught in modules to permit maximum attendance during off-work hours and eliminate the social stigma associated with older students attending classes with younger children. The Ministry of Education has conducted special training courses for the teachers in this program. In 1993, about 9,600 children between 10 and 15 years of age participated in the Extra Edad program.107
The Philippine Department of Education, Culture and Sports' Bureau of Non-Formal Education (BNFE) has conducted a child labor project since the late 1980s. The project has developed teaching modules for out-of-school working children; remedial instruction programs for in-school children; functional literacy, technical, and vocational skills training; and referrals to microcredit programs for parents of working children. It also attempts to reduce the number of dropouts and improve achievement in elementary schools by providing tutoring for dropouts and out-of-school youth so that they are able to obtain primary and secondary school equivalency.108
b. Flexible Schedules
Another strategy for increasing school enrollment and attendance is to make school schedules more flexible, allowing working children the opportunity to both work and study. A number of countries are currently implementing programs based on this approach. Some examples follow.
Since 1997, the Government of Guatemala has been implementing a number of programs to make school schedules more compatible with those of working children in rural areas. These programs are based on a student-oriented, flexible teaching structure that relies to a great extent on independent study outside the classroom.109 One of the flexible school day programs enables primary school children who spend the early morning hours working on farms to begin school later in the day. The fewer hours spent by the students in the classroom are compensated for by more independent study at home. The program was initiated in Mayan communities in 1997 and is expected to be broadened to cover 80 percent of all primary schools in rural areas by the end of 1998.110
Another program targets children of families who migrate to harvest coffee and sugar. It provides for a flexible school year to enable children to resume their studies at their community-based school after the harvest without having to wait for the next school year to begin. This program also relies on independent study to help offset the fewer hours spent in the classroom by students. In those communities where a majority of the population migrates for coffee and sugar harvests, the Ministry of Education is considering changing the school calendar so that it will not interfere with harvesting and migration patterns, thereby increasing children's access to primary school.111
In Mexico, the Secretariat of Social Development's National Agricultural Day Laborers Program (PRONJAG) recently developed a program to provide increased access to basic education for migrant farm workers' children, many of whom also work in the fields. Children of migrant farm workers live away from their place of origin for months at a time during the regular school year. PRONJAG is designing a system of educational modules that will enable migrant children to complete a grade without attending the same school for an entire academic year. Under this program, children can enroll in a school in their home state and complete the school year in another state if their parents migrate for the agricultural season. The program will also tailor the school curriculum so that it offers skills and knowledge that are valuable to its target population.112
In Peru, a number of schools have established three shifts--morning, noon, and night--to allow working children to combine work and schooling.113 The Ministry of Education has developed a flexible curriculum that allows teachers to give more attention to children who fall behind or miss classes because of work.114 The new curriculum permits teachers to make instruction more relevant to children's needs and interests, in some cases applying what a child has learned at work and building upon it in school lessons. So far, this curriculum has been pilot-tested in 40 schools, serving 180 to 200 working children per school--about 8,000 children in total.115
In Lapu-Lapu City, the regional office of the Philippine Department of Education, Culture, and Sports has developed a school-based work-study program directed at some 569 working children enrolled in the city's public elementary schools. These children are employed cutting and carrying Mactan stone or making firecrackers to supplement family income. Classroom instruction is provided in the morning, and the children report to work after lunch. The program seeks to move the children to less hazardous phases of production or to engage them in alternative forms of income generation. Children engaged in stonecutting have been introduced to the production of fashion accessories made of indigenous materials such as shells, stones, and twine. Children engaged in the production of firecrackers have been removed from the more dangerous activities, such as mixing chemicals and filling shells with gunpowder, to activities such as folding paper, and rolling, wrapping, and pasting shells. The production of firecrackers has also been moved closer to schools so that it could be monitored. The project has reportedly reduced occupational risks, raised income (by increasing productivity), and lowered school dropout rates among the city's working children.116
3. Economic Incentives
While making schools available and improving their quality is sometimes sufficient to increase enrollment and retention rates, some governments are compensating poor families for the loss of income that results when children go to school instead of working. Various types of economic incentives are being used, including free school meals, supplies, health care, and clothing, access to microcredit, and the waiver of school fees. Some programs also provide cash stipends.
Although economic incentive policies and programs have been used for over 20 years to increase school attendance and, more recently, to address child labor issues, the effectiveness of these programs has not been widely documented.117 A recent study conducted by the ILO concludes that economic incentives can help reduce child labor and keep children in schools when implemented as part of a comprehensive approach that includes other activities, such as awareness-raising, improving educational quality, and increasing community involvement.118 A number of the countries studied for this report are experimenting with economic incentive programs to increase primary school enrollment and attendance.
a. Meals for Children
One of the most popular incentive strategies is providing free meals to school children. This reduces the costs to parents of providing one or two meals (breakfast and/or lunch) and helps ensure that children get the nutrition essential for learning.119 A number of countries are providing free school meals to attract or retain students.
b. Food Distribution to Families
In some cases, food incentives are given directly to families who send their children to school. Direct distribution of food takes place in a number of the countries studied in this report.
c. School Vouchers
Other incentive programs provide school vouchers to eliminate, reduce, or subsidize school fees for poor and marginalized families. For instance, to offset school fees and indirect costs of schooling, the Egyptian Ministry of Education's Mubarak Program for Social Cooperation (established in February 1996) provides school grants through the Ministry of Social Affairs to children whose families earn less than 100 pounds (US$ 29.41) per month. The grants are either provided in kind or as cash and are intended to cover school uniforms, books, supplies, and school fees. During the school year 1996-97, about 169,000 school children received school grants. The average annual grant per child was 14.17 pounds (US$ 4.17).126
d. Cash Stipends
A number of countries are providing cash stipends to poor families to offset the income lost by having children attend school instead of working. Such programs focus on encouraging families to support their children's enrollment in and attendance at primary school. Some examples follow:
The School Scholarship (Bolsa Escola) program, established as a pilot program in Brazil's Federal District in 1995, ensures the equivalent of a minimum monthly salary to each needy family that keeps all its children between the ages of seven to 14 enrolled in and attending primary school.127 In addition to requiring a monthly school attendance rate of 90 percent,128 the program requires that unemployed adult family members be enrolled in the National Employment System (SINE). As of September 1997, the program had assisted 44,382 children from 22,493 families.129 The cost of the Bolsa Escola program in 1997 was 32 million reais (US$ 28.7 million), or one percent of the Federal District's budget.130
In conjunction with the Bolsa Escola program, the Federal District government is also implementing the School Savings Program (Poupança Escola) as an additional incentive for families to continue their children's education, prevent failure, and reduce school dropouts.131 The School Savings Program deposits the equivalent of a monthly salary into the savings account of each child enrolled in the Bolsa Escola program for each grade that is successfully completed, from first to eleventh grade.132 Students who drop out or fail to be promoted to the next grade twice in a row are removed from the program and the account funds are reverted to the government.133 As a result of the Bolsa Escola and the School Savings programs, the school dropout rate in the Federal District was reduced from about 11 percent in 1995 to 0.4 percent in 1996.134 The Bolsa Escola program is being replicated in 15 cities throughout Brazil, and the Governor of Brasília is starting a campaign to transfer this concept to other countries.135
In August 1997, Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo announced the establishment of the Program for Education, Health, and Nutrition (PROGRESA).136 One of the objectives of the program is to provide economic incentives for poor families to keep their children in school.137 Its target population is the 1.5 to two million children who are not regularly attending school or who have dropped out.138 PROGRESA offers bi-monthly educational scholarships, linked to school attendance, for students under the age of 18 in grades three through nine. Children must have at least an 85 percent attendance rate to receive the scholarship.139 Teachers are relied on to verify the attendance of scholarship recipients.140 The amount of the scholarships range from 70 to 630 pesos (US$ 7 to US$ 63).141 The amount increases with each grade, and in secondary school is slightly higher for girls than boys.142 PROGRESA also provides financial assistance for school materials to children in grades one through nine.143 At the end of 1997, PROGRESA was assisting close to 400,000 families in 13 states, including families receiving educational scholarships and health and nutritional services.144 In 1998, the total budget for PROGRESA is over two billion pesos (US$ 250 million), and the program is projected to assist almost two million families in 28 states.145
Another program, the National System for Integral Development of the Family (DIF), provides cash stipends for basic and vocational education to needy families in urban areas that send their children to school. Stipend recipients are required to show the report cards of their children to DIF officials to prove regular school attendance. This program began about eight years ago and is smaller than PROGRESA. It currently provides 8,000 stipends throughout Mexico.146
In addition to targeting at-risk rural and urban children, the Mexican Government has developed a stipend and hostel program targeting indigenous children. The aim of the program, administered by the National Indigenous Institute (INI), is to increase indigenous children's access to primary education. In 1997, INI operated 1,706 hostels and provided 58,000 stipends.147
This section has discussed a number of strategies for addressing impediments to educational attainment and increasing primary school enrollment, attendance, and completion rates. While some initiatives have targeted all children, others have focused on marginalized groups, including working children. Since the impact of these efforts can only be assessed by future increases in the number of children attending and completing school, these strategies have been presented to provide a general indication of government commitment to universal primary education. Chapter V describes in greater detail programs designed to remove children from exploitative work and reintegrate them into school and family life.
This report was produced by the staff of the International Child Labor Program and is published by the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of International Labor Affairs.