Education International
Education International

WSF: Poverty and child labour undermine quality education

published 16 February 2011 updated 16 February 2011

EI and its affiliates have participated in workshops on early childhood education and child labour in western Africa at the World Social Forum which has been held in Dakar, Senegal.

The World Social Forum (WSF) is an international event that draws thousands of people to exchange views on globalisation, human rights and workers’ rights. A special focus in this year’s forum has been African issues, in particular developments in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as the lack of action on development and poverty in Africa.

Making their interventions, EI affiliated teacher unionists from SYNESP (Benin); SYNTER (Burkina Faso); BUPL (Denmark); GEW (Germany); GNAT (Ghana); NAGRAT (Ghana);SNEB (Niger), FESEN (Togo), joined members of EI’s Senegalese affiliates and EI’s Africa Region staff to discuss policies to enhance early childhood education, as recommended by the Education for All (EFA) program and the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

Participants agreed that unions in western Africa must pursue their efforts to urge governments to take appropriate political measures for quality education. They expressed their concerns about how it could be that countries with limited natural resources, such as Cape Verde, Mauritius and Tunisia, were among the best performers in education, while the richest countries in the region justified their bad performances with budgetary restraints.

Teacher unionists also discussed the high propensity for child labour in the region, and articulated means to fight this practise which was depriving thousands of children from accessing education.

EI’s Africa Region coordinator, Samuel Ngoua Ngou, who took part in the workshops said: “It is not unusual for a child to start working at the age of five. The evidence shows that if a child does not get a basic education, he or she is unlikely to get it later as an adult.”

“There is no doubt that child labour is part of the daily reality in Africa. Despite the legal tools existing to fight it, including governments signing relevant international conventions, the questions is why nothing appears to be happening?”

Ngoua Ngou added that principal factors are the poverty which many families are experiencing, in addition to a lack of political will when the evidence becomes clear that children are not going to school either because there are none in the area, or because the teachers are unqualified.

General Secretary of the ITUC-affiliate CNTS Senegal, and President of ITUC-Africa, Mody Guiro, echoed Ngoua Ngou’s opinion: “It is more than urgent to change the current model of globalisation and put an end to the neo-liberal orthodoxy that has left millions of Africans with under-funded education systems, poor health services and virtually no decent work opportunities. From the WSF in Dakar we call for a new agenda with full employment at its heart.”

The GEW, one of EI’s German affiliates, which is launching a campaign for the eradication of child labour in the cocoa industry, said that it would bring the impact of the issues into classrooms by raising awareness of the conditions under which snack bars, often eaten in schools at lunch time, are produced.

EI applauds its African and German affiliates’ efforts to tackle child labour to reach the MDGs by 2015. It also urges all governments to allocate public funds in the fight against child labour and towards attainment of EFA, while ending the use of the global financial crisis as the short-sighted justification for cutting education budgets.