Learning to Work, Working to Learn

 Dear Friends:

 As many of you are aware, education circles in many countries are currently filled with talk about “child labor”.  Most of these discussions juxtapose school against work, stating that children should be in school, and would be, if they weren’t forced to work.  Underlying this argument is the assumption that children who work face tremendous problems, not just of poverty and material struggle, but also because they are stunted in their overall development as full human beings.  Formal, full-time school is viewed as the best answer to their problems. A second group in this discussion posits that children work for a variety of reasons, but they should not miss out on the benefits of education.  For this group, non-formal education centers or initiatives, which are geared towards working children, fill the gap. 

 We join these groups in vehemently opposing hazardous labor and bonded labor for children – indeed for all human beings. However, we would challenge the agenda of those who outrightly condemn work/labor and who propose factory-schooling as a legitimate substitute. We invite you to join us in a dialogue to understand this issue more deeply: 

 - What is the value of certain kinds of work in children’s (and our own) lives? 

- How is work/labor important for our learning (self-learning, co-learning, unlearning), growing and ‘real development’ as human beings?

- What is the connection between undermining/degrading labor and the larger global political economy? 

- How are current ecological, social, political and economic crises related to the devaluing of labor?

- What do we lose when we lose the ability to work with our hands, backs and feet?

- What does ‘childhood’ and ‘child rights’ mean in our communities?

 Part of our motivation for initiating this dialogue also comes from the recent news that Ms. Shanta Sinha of the M.V. Foundation (based in Secunderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India) won the Magsasay Award for her work in education. However, when we began to investigate Sinha’s ideas, which form the basis of M.V. Foundation’s work, several concerns came to mind.  The following ‘non-negotiable’ Charter of Basic Principles for Emancipation of Children has been articulated by Sinha in her books and in the M.V. Foundation’s English and Hindi brochures and UNDP website:

http://hdrc.undp.org.in/childrenandpoverty/CHILDPOV/NONNEG.HTM :

 1. ALL CHILDREN MUST ATTEND FULL-TIME FORMAL DAY SCHOOLS - Non-formal schools should only be a bridge to formal education and not a substitute for night schools.

2. ANY CHILD OUT OF SCHOOL IS CHILD LABOUR - The definition of child labour encompasses every non-school going child irrespective of whether engaged in wage work or non-wage work, self employed, working for their family, or working for others, employed in hazardous or non-hazardous occupations, employed on daily wage or on contract basis as bonded labour.


4. THERE MUST BE TOTAL ABOLITION OF CHILD LABOUR - Any law regulating child work is unacceptable

5. ANY JUSTIFICATION PERPETUATING THE EXISTENCE OF CHILD LABOUR MUST BE CONDEMNED – The following arguments are all anti-child and go against their real development: (a) ‘Harsh reality’ of the family (b) Poverty (c) Child earnings and income is necessary for the family (d) Unwillingness of parents (e) Teachers and schools are bad (f) Education is useless and does not provide employment (g) Children lose skills and become irrelevant to their surroundings once educated.

 We believe that it is urgent that we interact more deeply around this issue. A conversation in Hindi is already well underway; many ideas about childhood, family, industrialization, consumerism, institutionalization, brain development, joyful learning, etc. have emerged.  We hope to grow as lively a dialogue in English with an international audience’s participation.   Please find below the first few comments in this process…   

 Again, we invite you to share to 1 page of your thoughts, to help us in expanding our understandings, experiences and values around this issue of ‘child labor’ and its implications for learning in the 21st century.


Some Responses In the Dialogue

"Child Labour - A Symptom or Problem?" - Arif Tabassum

"Recovering a Natural Learning Process" - Jinan KB

"The Quest" - Jyotibhai Desai

"Working for Meaningful Participation" - Camy Matthay

"Freeing Labor from Commodification" - Sanat Mohanty

"Shram and Shiksha" - Bharat Mansata

"The Greatest Threat to Education" - Suddhir Pattnaik

"Child Labor vs. Permanent Slavery" - Shilpa Jain

"Work Is Not Always Slavery: Virtues of Self-Education" - Anil Pradhan

"Giving Work Its Due" - Gurveen Kaur

"The Balance of Life" - Coumba Toure

"Need for De-Professionalizing" - Vivek Bhandari


From Arif Tabassum <ariftabassum@yahoo.com>

Child Labour –  A Symptom or Problem?


Child labour has been a burning issue for the last several years. A lot of organizations, institutions and donor agencies in the world are ‘devotedly’ working to combat child labour and protect children from the menace of labour work. A lot of organizations and agencies (especially from North) are committed to solving this “grave problem” and giving the right of education and schooling to this marginalized and deprived group.  But the hidden effects of their narrow solution need to be exposed.


First, child labour slogans are used to destroy local and indigenous industries of developing countries, in order to make spaces available for consumption of so-called developed world’s products and avoid competition. Sialkot in Pakistan is an example of it, where all prominent child labour organizations played their active role to eradicate the local economy. Sialkot was world famous in the sports industry; there was a high demand for footballs stitched in Sialkot. The same was true for the surgical and leather products of Sialkot. Footballs, surgical instruments and leather products were made in every home of the surrounding villages with a very fine quality and standard. But the “champions of child rights” launched a campaign against the productions of Sialkot by highlighting the issue of child labour and their right to education — in other words the right of schooling.  Therefore not a single football from Sialkot used in the Football World Cups of 1998 and 2002. Major products for these World Cups were provided by Germany. Some similar things have been done in the football making industry of India and sport clothes and shoes of China, Indonesia and Vietnam. So in the name of ‘eradicating child labour’, the entire local economy of indigenous goods and services was bulldozed, thus conveniently making more space for MNCs and promoting global consumer culture.


Child labour campaigners emphasize its elimination on a one-point agenda: that these poor children are being deprived from education. In effect, they are saying that children must be schooled to be ‘civilized’ and ‘developed’; otherwise, they cannot play any ‘productive’ role in the society.   Don’t people who do not attend school play important roles in society?  And, perhaps more significantly, shouldn’t we question what kind of ‘society’ or ‘development’ these child labour campaigners are envisioning?  Here we can also smell the agenda of Education For All that aims to put every child in the world in school. From this perspective, it is no surprise that there is a law under consideration in India to fine the parents if they do not send their children to school.  We can expect Pakistani families to be subjected to similar pressures in the near future.


Actually all these tinkering approaches to combat child labour are based on the false reasons and symptomatic aspects.  This view of pseudo-experts on child labour is actually negating all the learning needs, creative potentials and the importance of work in children’s lives.  Because it is already propagated through every possible channel that only school provides the knowledge and skills, there is no space for those who have no degrees. A piece of paper is considered more important than the practical knowledge, skills and experiences. Even though in reality those who have high-class degrees are more corrupt and dangerous for society. Once a child is schooled, then he also becomes disrespectful of his ancestral skills and culture. This is the basic cause of obsolescence of indigenous wisdom, skills, expertise and occupations. 

I myself am an example of it. I belong to an agricultural family, but I don’t know a single practice of farming. I studied chemistry, physics, geography and maths for several years, but I am still unable to relate these subjects with my practical life. School affected me on two levels: it distracted me from obtaining practical knowledge of farming; and it also gave me information, which is now useless for me. It basically detached me from my land, the land which provides learning-full experiences to live a meaningful life. Yet, sadly, if a child today will choose to work on his/her farm, it will be branded a violation of his rights and will be considered as child labour. This is the new definition of child right; a definition emerged from the West as usual.


All this game basically diverts our concentration from the causes of a big problem.  Child labour is only a symptom and effect of that big problem, which is rooted in colonization, a brutal neo-liberal economy and unjust globalization. This problem can never be eradicated by getting children out of work and putting them into another “forced work” of schooling. Our efforts instead need to challenge those global systems that destroy honest work in local communities. To launch such challenges, we need to engage people with the history of colonization and present globalization. The problems of social injustice, inequality and exploitation affect all walks of life in the whole world. We should focus on critical awareness of this global problem, so that each of us can assert our own self-defined rights and reject the present unjust world system.


We have to redefine the questions of child labour, human rights, democracy, freedom, civil society, education access, social capital, environment, population welfare, sustainable development and social mobilization. All these words are repeated at every forum to justify (and keep us trapped in) the false goal of development. All these words are misleading, and used for the depoliticization of our communities. We have to revitalize our own definitions of collective learning, mutual cooperation, participatory growth and indigenous living. This revitalization process requires much unlearning, which is more difficult and uneasy but not impossible.  We can do it with our sincere efforts; it is possible.



New Indian law will fine parents not sending children to school
(Oct 31, Updated at 1600 PST)
NEW DELHI: The Indian government plans to fine parents who do not send their children to school in a bid to boost the literacy rate, an official said Friday.

Draft legislation seeks to put into effect a law passed by the India’s federal government last year, which makes primary education a fundamental right for every child, the official said.

Parents who flout the law will be fined up to 500 rupees (10 dollars) and continuing violations will attract a fine of 50 rupees a day. The bill backs supports other legislation which prohibits child labour and makes school attendance compulsory.

According to the Ministry of Human Resource Development, of India's 190 million children aged between six and 14, some 23 million are not receiving education.



From Jinan KB <jinankb@eth.net>

 Recovering Natural Learning Processes

 My view is that true learning can only take place in 'doing'.   And the tools for ‘doing’ are the five senses. These help us to know the outside world, as well as the inside world.    Senses are a sort of reciprocal devices that help creation to establish communion with the inner self.  To me, schools are jails for children, where the senses are dulled due to total disuse.


Intuition is another major ability that gets killed completely in schooling. Intuition is directly connected with 'doing' or experiential knowledge.  Intuition is possible only in experiential processes, where the whole being is involved. And only in a Natural learning process does experience itself becomes the context for learning. In essence, authentic living is learning.


Modern education, on the other hand, has shifted the center of knowledge from Nature to the human, from the collective to the ego, from the heart to intellect, from intuition to reason, from experience to information, from holism to compartmentalization. The effects of modern education on the individual include: alienation, intellectualization, conceptualization, fragmentation, etc.  The larger and more dangerous effects of modern education on the planet are the destruction of ecosystems, the total disappearance of non-renewable wealth, the extinction of many animals and plants, and much more.   In contrast, indigenous and traditional communities have created knowledge that sustains life on the planet, not only for human beings, but for all forms of life.


What schools do is to turn everyone into second-hand people, since there is neither originality nor authenticity in that system.  Creating or making knowledge does not happen in the school system; it happens outside, in real life.  Indeed, by sending everyone to school, the ability to create knowledge is permanently damaged.   One might say that the agenda of globalisation, compulsory Education for All, and child labor campaigners is to destroy peoples’ knowledge.


The worst pollution is the pollution of words and concepts and books.  Knowledge evolved out of experience is meaningful and is within the context of living.  But concepts created from abstraction are endless and most often meaningless.  While deeper and more authentic experience can evolve deeper knowledge, human-centered knowledge can never become holistic, because it separates itself from nature’s knowledge.  The way to access nature’s knowledge is to de-intellectualize and then listen deeply and honestly to experience.  It is not a matter of accumulating more information.  What is required is a qualitative change.


What we must understand is that the categories of ‘work’, ‘play’, ‘education’, etc. are a division of the westernized mindset and hence irrelevant in the indigenous learning process.  Those who separate work from play, and both from education, do not understand the experiential process of learning.   Learning is a natural act, which happens in the natural and immediate environment of human activities, animals, birds, other living beings, plants, trees and other aspects of nature. Learning takes place by interacting with this environment, which must include, of course, physical manual work.


The other day, I saw three children making a pond. They had bunked school to do this activity. They were digging, catching fish and looking out for plants that grow in water. I have witnessed and been part of several such activities where true learning takes place.


From my experiences, I believe that knowledge in a Natural learning process is like a sprouting seed. It is seen in the way people build their settlements; their dwellings, their artifacts, all seem sprouted from the earth.  They are inspiringly concordant, just like the bird, the branch, and her nest, made with twigs.   Or see the various games children play in villages. Their games sensitize all the senses, balance the body, and enable them to know the life and environment around them.  This natural learning is visible even in their sense of beauty.


In fact, by delving a little further into the biological aspect of knowledge, I soon realized that all the games children play in the villages is a kind of a response to their individual biological needs. Children in natural learning cultures are similar to any newborn living being, and nature has its own precious pace to make them grow.  In traditional societies, every situation is a learning situation; a rhythm followed from birth to death.


Rather than banning children from entering these natural rhythms of living, which include physical work, playing, making crafts, communing with nature, etc., we should be searching for ways to recover such balance in their lives, and our lives as adults.  Those interested in child welfare should take up this important work, which begins with understanding natural learning themselves. 



From Jyotibhai Desai (Vedchhi, Gujarat)

The Quest

 I was invited by a group working in Dharampur Tehsil of Valsad District to meet their teachers of non-formal education centers during Janmashti holidays (August 16-19, 2003). The area with 95% tribal population has been left out of “Development”, more so in the field of education.  Hence it is that some three groups are attempting to conduct schools and such non-formal centers.  On our way to Tamachhadi, an interior-most village, the director expressed her concerns which speak of the basic problem of present education. “By now, we can say that, we have been able to convince parents to send their children for further education – say 7th onwards.  They were reluctant to send their wards to Vedchhi or Vyara which is over 150 kms from their homes.  But it’s there where we have good Gandhian Post-Basic secondary schools.  So we persuaded for over six years, when some four or five of them first went there.  But at present, things have changed.  This year in June 2003, I had to hire two tempos to get all the 150 of these boys and girls to go out there.  But my major worry is what will they do after being there?  Already in the group you are meeting today, there is a youth who has a master’s degree.  He has failed to get any job and is working with us as a helper in our center, in spite of the bare minimum salary that we are able to provide.  In less than five years, I can see scores of young girls and boys will be facing the same fate.  What’s the meaning of our attempts to send them to schools?”


That the director was reflecting on her work of over 15 years is a welcome sign.  Indeed, it is a question to be asked by all who are keen to help people gain a respectful life.


The question is not gainful employment only.  Any activity, be it labor, education, or even entertainment, carried out of compulsion or helplessness results in stagnation.  To consider, intelligent engagement with work as an excuse to perpetuate exploitation is devaluing the understanding of human attempts to create knowledge.  “The translation of the need for learning into the demand for schooling, and the conversion of the quality of growing up into the price tag of a professional treatment, changes the meaning of KNOWLEDGE – from a term that designates intimacy, intercourse and life experience into one that designates professionally packaged products, marketable entitlements, and abstract values.  Schools have helped to foster this translation.” (Ivan Illich, After Deschooling, What?, 1973) 


Life experience is attained by one who lives responsibly.   Reflecting on and evaluating individuals’ responsible decisions/efforts has helped humankind to enrich itself with better understanding of its place on the planet.  True development consists of development of the spirit.  The individual needs to be self-reliant and self-confident.  These qualities an d characteristics are achieved by engaging in real work, which is the essence of living responsibly.  It is indeed an insult to the growing individual to consider them as those who should be made to become cogs of the mega machine.


‘The belief that all genuine education comes about through experience does not mean that all experiences are genuinely or equally educative.  Experience and education cannot be directly equated to each other.   For some experiences are mis-educative.   Any experience is mis-educative that has the effect of arresting or distorting the growth of further experience.  An experience may be such as to engender callousness; it may produce lack of sensitivity and of responsiveness.  Then the possibility of having richer experiences in the future is restricted.   Again, a given experience may increase a person’s automatic skill in a particular direction and yet tend to land him in a groove or rut; the effect again is to narrow the field of further experience.  An experience may be immediately enjoyable and yet promote the formation of slack and careless attitude; this attitude then operates to modify the quality of the subsequent experience so as to prevent a person from getting out of them what they have to give.  Again, experiences may be so disconnected from one another that while each is agreeable or even exciting in itself, they are not linked cumulatively to one another.  Energy is then dissipated and a person becomes scatterbrained.  Each experience may be lively, vivid and “interesting”, and yet their disconnectedness may artificially generate dispersive, disintegrated centrifugal habits.  The consequence of such habits is inability to control future experiences.  They are taken either by way of enjoyment or discontent and revolt, just as they come.  Under such circumstances, it is idle to talk of self-control.’


‘Traditional education offers a plethora of examples of experiences of the kinds just mentioned.  How many students, for example, were reduced, callous to ideas, and how many lost impetus to learn because the way in which learning was experienced by them?  How many acquired special skills by automatic drill, so that their power of judgment and to act intelligently in new situations was limited?  How many came to associate learning processes with ennui and boredom?  How many found what they did learn so foreign to the situations of life outside the school as to give them no power of control over the latter?  How many came to associate books with dull drudgery, so that they were “conditioned” to all but flashy reading matter?’ (John Dewey, Experience and Education, 1958)


Gandhiji said, “The utterly false idea that intelligence can be developed only through book-reading should give place to the truth that the quickest development of the mind can be achieved by the artisan’s work being learnt in a scientific manner.  True development of the mind commences immediately.  The apprentice is taught at every step why a particular manipulation of the hand or a tool is required.” (M.K. Gandhi, Basic Education, 1956)


‘Work is man’s basic activity, the means by which all material needs are satisfied.  It is also the means by which his spiritual needs are satisfied.  It exercises and develops all his powers and enables him to experience the joy of self and social fulfillment.  The moment a personal handles any raw materials, with the object of giving them a serviceable function in the life around him, he becomes a creator, and develops an inward strength and self-reliance which spurs him on to greater fulfillment.” (Zakir Hussain)


Our discussions that followed with the teachers of non-formal education centers created a situation in which all of them, it seemed, wanted to seek better education.  In fact, they got their ‘quest’!  ringing in their minds.  Shall we process our fruits and vegetables for the city market?  Shall we use the available natural resources for improving the lives of our people?   Or send them out for commercial exploitation?   That was the beginning, I hope.  If they really pick up the basic concern of enriching the lives of the people, the solution will surely emerge.

  From Camy Matthay <maha@chorus.net>

 Working for Meaningful Participation


In regards to your note, “Learning to Work, Working to Learn,” a number of things came to mind:  First, I recalled that John Holt said something like “let us outlaw exploitative labor, not child labor since laws that prohibit all child labor deny so many forms of meaningful participation to youth.”  I am in complete sympathy with that point of view, and this relates inversely to something Kalle Lasn called to my attention in his book ‘Culture Jam.’  In that book, Lasn expressed both his rage and impatience with the generation of North Americans born between 1965 and 1980 who he felt had “voluntarily removed themselves from the collective effort” required to transform the world.   After witnessing the tremendous involvement of some North American youth in the protest in Seattle and Quebec, I would hope that Lasn might feel slightly more optimistic than he did when he wrote the book in 1999.  Nevertheless, I rather admired his passion for trying to motivate the youth that he felt were “slackers” -those who, as he wrote, “spend days on end sharpening their sardonic edge on the whetstone of apathy.”  But I also felt strongly that Lasn’s assessment that their indifference was voluntary overlooked the tremendous forces that exist in American society to render this strata –the generation which he felt would have ordinarily accomplished the “bulk of the tribe’s work”-  impotent.


Needless to say, compulsory government schooling is the central arena where these obedient (and lame) subjects are produced, and if there is any clear accountability it must also rest in the hands of parents who unthinkingly reproduce their own relationships within the existing order.

I’ve written elsewhere about how “in the last decade that I’ve been unschooling my children, people –especially parents of schoolchildren- have always been interested in knowing why my husband and I have not sent our children to school.  I can usually tailor a response to pique their interest and sometimes garner more than a modicum of respect.  But, I rarely say what I really want to say, i.e., that the whole educational system is flawed to the core because it necessarily cripples the social consciousness of children.  Indeed, the sort of persons that are socialized within the current educational establishment are often so inculcated with exaggerated competitive attitudes and with the idea that individual material gain is the best measure of “success”, that they are unable to imagine a world organized much differently.  I no longer ask these parents the comparable question: “Why are you sending your child to school?” because to our mutual embarrassment they so often have no idea.”

Finally, I have seen the remarkable work that teens are able to do to enhance, even repair, community life when they are free from authoritarian constraints... and it alternatively saddens and maddens me that the vast majority of them are confined to the agenda of the most entrenched, capitalistic and rigidly conservative elements in society.

From Sanat Mohanty <mohanty_sanat@hotmail.com>

Freeing Labor from Commodification

The attempt to produce a universally understanding of child labor asks that a number of assumptions be addressed. One is about the nature of labor. Another is about what it means to be a child.


In today’s understanding of the world, labor is largely employment – it is human exertion that can be exchanged for money. Commodification of labor is in fact understood to be labor itself – there is no labor that lies outside commodified labor. In fact, there is a significant part of labor – human exertion – that is not or cannot be commodified. It lies in work I do for my family and friends. It lies in work I do for myself. Of course, economic experts can argue that even such labor can be valued – but frankly, I do not care for their value of my exertions. Neither do many others. All I am saying is that there are many things we do to which we personally do not care to attach a price – that which we do not care to commodify.


Most – perhaps all – cultures acknowledge that a child is a human that is learning about the world – about life; that s/he is in the process of growing stronger physically, emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. However, this does not demand that the child not be exposed to the world, that s/he not face real problems as s/he learns about his/her society and its worldview, as the current western model of society has assumed. The western worldview has assumed that the only place for the child to learn is within institutions named schools, studying through structured curricula and playing well-organized games. It does not understand societies that believe that the place for children to learn is to be with adults, to live in the real world and to join in as they can in adult activities. The western world does not understand how children can learn in working and playing with adults, (but also by themselves) and being exposed to discussions they have and decisions they make. It does not understand that often in non-western cultures, it becomes necessary for ‘children’ to take on responsibilities for their own sake and for the sake of their families and communities.


It is the confluence of these two westernized realities that leads to our understanding of child labor. It believes that child labor is wrong because all labor is commodified labor and children should not be commodified. (I cede that western thought is human enough to be repulsed by commodification of children’s efforts even though commodification of labor itself seems natural.) And it believes that the only appropriate place for children to learn is at school. So children should be studying in schools. It sees children in rural communities working with their families on farms or taking their cattle to graze as child labor that is wrong. It forgets that it is in working on farms or in grazing cattle that a child learns about animals, about agriculture, about the dynamics of the community – aspects that the child needs to learn to responsibly live in that community.


These activities may be exploitative in certain conditions – but they cannot be generalized to be oppressive all the time and in every circumstance. Child labor is oppressive where it is used to exploit children – where children in various industries are paid minimal amounts to work in sub-human conditions. Child labor is oppressive when conditions are thrust on children that prevent them from discovering themselves and knowing the world around them. It is the role of the state – to the extent that individuals and communities have become unable and unwilling to fulfill what is really their responsibility – to ensure that children are not exploited. For that matter, that no one is exploited. However, one needs to be able to acknowledge the human in applying these laws. They cannot be universal for in being universal they ignore the uniqueness of every community, the humanness of every individual. The right to education cannot become an incarceration to be schooled. Western understanding of labor cannot be applied to societies that see labor beyond commodification, even though they might be paid for their products. Protection from child labor cannot become a constraint to an individual from helping his/her family.


From Bharat Mansata <bharatmansata@yahoo.com>

Shram and Shiksha

 What I’d like to share (from personal experience) is a village perspective, which is probably common to many other parts of rural India.  I have learnt that children who have completed school till Class 10, are more ‘maladjusted’. They tend to lose their sense of belonging, and feel that they are “neither here nor there”. Their aspirations are more ‘urbanised’, and they vaguely hope to get a city or town based job, with possibly decent income prospects. Such jobs hardly ever materialise.


The youngsters (or their parents) wonder/hope that if they study further, their ‘prospects’ might improve. Not that they look forward at all to another 2 years of schooling, leave aside 3 further years of college, or some diploma. Those who finish Class 12, are perhaps in a worse predicament. A decently paying job, or almost any job, still does not come their way. Meanwhile, many of them have lost any inclination to get into farming or other rural manual work. They feel guilty that they did not contribute to their family while they were studying, and are still unable to put their 12 years of shiksha to some  “practical economic use”. Quite tragically, they are forced to realise that their educational ‘superiority’ is worth almost nothing.


Of course, the ability to read, write and do basic calculations is helpful, but did they need to go through 10 or 12 years of unexciting institutional routine for this? And if they gained something valuable, they also lost something valuable – their self-reliance, and consequent self-confidence.


Another problem with schooling is mis-education. For example, text books often extol the virtues of modern technological progress, like chemical-intensive farming with hybrids, and cash-crops for sale, rather than a balanced traditional variety of foods for self-consumption, grown in a healthy organic way. The tendency to go to a doctor for the slightest ailment, also gets more pronounced, as ‘educated’ villagers are expected to behave in a more ‘responsible’ manner. The entire family gets affected by this. And almost every visit to the doctor (at least in our area) is ‘treated’ with an injection for quick relief.  Consequently, schooling is also contributing, directly or indirectly, in subtle or not-so-subtle ways, to the ruination of the soil, water resources, and the health of people. 


I have noticed too that natural curiosity and a desire to learn among village youngsters is commonly in inverse proportion to the amount of schooling they have gone through, even though the more schooled ones might have earlier been brighter than their (now) less schooled counterparts. Through an almost Pavlovian process of conditioning, children are progressively taught to associate ‘study’ with boredom. (more conditioning = pronounced response) Of course, boring teachers share some responsibility for this, but the fact remains that the rigid institutional set-up itself, with all its routine and rules, is intrinsically boring. Moreover, any learning that is divorced from felt needs and ‘real life’ reference points, tends to be futile. It is easily forgotten, and why not?


For most villagers, the satisfaction of basic needs, like food, cannot be taken for granted.  The food either has to be grown, or bought. If one cannot earn the money to buy food, one must grow it. This requires shram. And if some think this is a dirty word, how do they imagine people will get to eat?  Land provides all that is basic for survival, and indeed for well-being. And considering all the damage we have been inflicting on the earth, more of us, rather than less, will need to ‘soil’ our hands with works like tree planting, and other locally suitable measures for soil and water conservation.


While shram can be laborious, it can also be satisfying, educative, healthy, and intrinsically useful. (In any case, who says that anybody has to labour all the time.) Daily schooling is perhaps a more laborious chore, but without most of the above accompanying benefits! (Not to forget the several kilometer trudge under the sun, twice a day - to and from school, lugging a heavy bag of books.)


ps. Shall try to send you a few thoughts on initiating some non-formal learning opportunities, which will also include organic farming, and learning about the forest, apart from reading, writing, story-telling, singing, music, art, etc. This is particularly for local adivasi youngsters in the context of our ‘Vision Van Vadi’ land venture. Working with one’s hands will be a natural part of the learning process. For older kids, who may put in a few hours of work regularly, an ‘apprenticeship stipend’ (perhaps in food, kind, and/or cash) may be provided. The regular ‘teachers’ will be from within the local adivasi village, and will include at least one or two who are knowledgeable about the forest and its numerous useful species, as well as traditional organic farming. Other guest teachers may also be invited for short (or longer) visits. Or perhaps, to even stay and help an integral ‘learning & living’ community to grow here.


From Sudhir Pattnaik
The Greatest Threat to Education

I don’t know if it would be worth responding to the rubbish that the MVF talks about in its so-called declaration on child labor. I don’t think if people in MVF have got any wisdom original to them. The appetite for fund and fame makes many NGOs accept and advocate any concept promoted by western support agencies, which can conveniently bring them the two. There are hundreds of NGOs in India today like the MVF who receive millions of dollars just because they are willing to work on the concepts promoted by funding agencies. There may also be a design at work to engage our creative time on debating with them so that the time we spend on building up learning societies gets killed or affected.

The greatest threat to education comes from the education establishment itself, and if any one in the name of liberating child labour wants to strengthen such an establishment, they can never be acceptable to us.

If these sponsored campaigners had some seriousness left in them, they would have taken some care to understand why so many children in our society are deprived of love and care? Why they are deprived of food and fun? Why they can’t pursue a learning path, which would give them the happiness of learning? Can the education establishment give any learner the freedom to learn? Any school they talk about is part of such an establishment. The purpose of the education establishment is to create a class of educated people who can take by heart whatever is given to them. Those who can articulate well whatever they receive would also acquire the additional status of scholars. Those who resent this process in a language that the educators are not able to understand, are ultimately condemned as drop outs/failures. It may be a criminal blunder to call such genuine protesters- “child labour” and drag them into the same process, which they have been resenting just because we don’t understand their expression.

The love for children should come from our heart; it should not come from fund (all the awards such as the one Ms Santa Sinha has received are part of the fund regime). Any one who loves children should work for creating an atmosphere for them where the children can be found as happy and creative learners.

This is my instant reaction to the content of MVF declaration.

From Shilpa Jain

‘Child Labor’ vs. Permanent Slavery

It is hard to stand on your own two feet, if your knees are broken.

Shanta Sinha’s call to children – that they should enter and complete formal primary schools – is life-threatening.  Not in the sense that children will lose their hands or legs in school (although cases of abuse by school officials have resulted in such atrocities).  No, they stand to lose something much more precious:  their freedom. 

By compelling all children to attend primary schooling, Sinha is sentencing them to a lifetime of complete servitude.  Not just a submission to authority figures and professional experts, whom children are taught to bow down to and not question.  (This is part of the hidden curriculum of schooling.) But worse, children become enslaved for life to an invisible and unforgiving master: the global economy. 

Schooling equips a child for only one thing: to enter the market economy, in the hopes of finding a job, in an industry or service, in order to earn wages, which are then spent in marketplaces, to purchase all the items necessary to survival (food, clothing, shelter).  At each step along the way, one is entirely dependent on the supplies and demands of the market economy. 

In fact, only a few years of school are enough to make a person feel helpless and incompetent, totally insecure without the services, professions and goods of the market.  Lifelong consumerism is a necessary and immediate by-product of education.  How convenient!

If today my job is considered valuable, then my wages are paid, and I feel ‘secure’ that I will have enough to eat and drink.  But in the back of my mind, I know the security is an illusion.  Because tomorrow, the job may disappear.  There are hundreds of reasons why — down-sizing, new technology, a shift to cheaper wage labor, environmental regulations — reasons for unemployment come in all shapes and sizes.  But here is the catch: not one of these reasons is in my hands to control.  I am totally enslaved, trapped by the dictates of a master who I cannot touch or talk to, and who certainly does not see or hear me.

In village after village in India, parents and grandparents are witnessing another side to this slavery:  their sons and daughters unable to find employment in the market, and incapable of or unwilling to learn their family’s traditional work.  They neither fit here or there.  These youth are frustrated, depressed and angry.  They feel betrayed by a system which promised them great reward for their study; yet, simultaneously, they are filled with material desires and expectations from the same market.  In such a condition, Sinha’s demand for universal primary schooling and an end to work is not just irresponsible, but dangerous.  It lays the foundation for more violent uprisings like Gujarat.

In fact, I find Sinha’s avoidance of market realities extremely dishonest. Over and over again, in nearly every country in the world, highly schooled people are the most unemployed.  Not just because jobs are disappearing (although they are), but also because schooled people are not able to do anything but search for employment.  They cannot be free from market twists and turns, because they have no where else to turn for their livelihood.  Schooling has broken their knees and told them this is the way they will stand on their own two feet.

Sinha’s definition of ‘child labor’ effectively takes children away from any and all opportunities to learn and practice meaningful work – be it farming, a traditional craft, natural healing, or home-care taking.  I find it bizarre that Sinha has made no attempt to differentiate these from violent, dehumanizing, market-demanded work.   For it is in these lines of work that one is the most free.  Not just because there is beauty and purpose in such work, but also because there is no faceless boss and no external arbiter of value to contend with.  Instead, one’s creation and reward are bound to the local — to the land, to the community, to the family, to one’s own hands.  Surviving and living well is entirely in one’s hands, because it is entirely organized around human-scale relationships.  Actually, these kinds of work make interdependence a reality.  They make it possible to be free, to be one’s own master, to live in a mental, physical, spiritual, social and ecological balance.

Thankfully, many parents and children around the world are escaping this future of slavery by ignoring Sinha’s prescription for compulsory schooling.


From Anil Pradhan <anil1969@rediffmail.com>

Work Is Not Always Slavery: Virtues of Self Education

I find MV Foundation slogans/philosophy deeply disturbing. I have been working in tribal areas of Orissa for the last eleven years and I have formed a fairly good idea about the pros and cons of the education system in tribal society. My reactions to MV foundation’s philosophy on child labour are as follows:


Regarding the MV foundation’s stand that all children must attend full time formal day schools, I think it is not necessary for all children to do so.   If children’s academic achievement is higher in informal learning centres or at  home than it is in a formal school, why should he or she  waste  his/her time in a full time day school?


It is common knowledge that the system of full-time formal schooling has failed spectacularly. Learning can take place in the society where a pupil lives.  We can not call people who have not received  formal education ‘uneducated‘. Education is not the same as acquisition of literacy.


We are running 30 alternative education centres in tribal areas of Orissa for the benefit of tribal children. The facilitators/teachers of these centres belong to the same communities and are conversant with local languages and culture. They teach the children while taking their convenience into account, as most of them are working children. These children do not work in hazardous conditions nor do they work for others. They help with household and agricultural work and sometimes collect fire-wood or leaves from the jungle.


Children in the Alternative Education Centres devote 3-4 hours to their studies per day. Besides, holidays are adjusted as per their local festivals and weekly market days. Teachers have undergone training to improve their relationship with students and to learn from them, so that children will not look upon  teachers as their saviours.  Children feel comfortable with teachers and ask questions and share their sorrows and joys with them. Vegetable cultivation, gardening etc have been encouraged to keep the community spirit intact and instill in them respect for work, which is already a part of the culture of their community. Tribal culture and history have been included in the course curriculum to raise their self- confidence and get rid of inferiority complex. Co-curricular activities have been introduced to nurture the talent of children.


Our assessment reveals that our children’s academic performance is better than that of children in so-called full time formal schools.  Our children join formal schools to receive higher education as we do not have alternative arrangements for them. Some children from our alternative education centres  are dropping out from formal schools in the higher classes due to the intolerable teacher-student relationships there,  which is based on fear and artificialness. 


I do not understand why MV Foundation advocates full time day schools instead of  non-formalization of formal schools.  This was recommended by Kothari Commission in 1964-66, and revised National Education Policy, 1992. Rather advocacy should be undertaken to non-formalise all formal schools and informal learning should be encouraged.


Let’s take the case of Late Binod Kanungo in Orissa. Binod Kanungo was a 9th class drop-out. Through his own efforts, he succeeded in writing 75 volumes of an encyclopedia single handed, which is unique in the India. Till date, nobody has been able to do anything on such a massive scale. Late Satya Narayan Rajguru was another school drop-out. He has made a valuable contribution to the study of the history of Orissa and won Sahitya Akademi Award for his literary achievements.


One may also mention Kutartha Acharaya in this context. He was born on the 20th of March 1900 in the undivided Sambalpur district of Orissa. He received his early education at the village school and then at Sambalpur Zilla High School. He lost his parents while he was still in school. He could not sit for his matriculation examination. In 1922, he gave up his studies and joined the struggle for freedom led by Mahatma Gandhi. In a bold move, he organized spinning through charkha by untouchables in Bargarh in Sambalpur. He founded Sambalpuri Bastralayawhich became a cooperative society in 1955. Now, Sambalpuri textiles produced by weaving community in the western part of Orissa have been recognized not only as highly saleable commodities the world over but also as beautiful objects of art, famous for their colour, texture and design.  These textiles have become almost as well known as the Konark wheel as a symbol of the glorious tradition of Orissan art and crafts.


Late Manmohma Choudhury was a self -made and self-taught person.   He had received no formal education. But he has written highly regarded books on physics, economics, and development issues. He has written a book on Gandhi titled Exploring Gandhi in English and translated his mother’s autobiography into English titled Into the Son, which has brought him much acclaim. He is one of the central cultural figures of the state.


Let’s also take the case of Annapurna Moharana, who has received no formal education. Being a self-educated person, she is a prominent intellectual and social activist in Orissa and has written scholarly books in Oriya and has translated several  texts into Oriya . Her command of Oriya language is remarkable.


If we lay too much stress on so-called academic qualifications, the space in which this kind of creativity flourishes will contract. Advocating full time day schools for all, M.V. Foundation will end up undermining informal learning, which will again de-motivate millions of semi-literates of the country.


M.V. Foundation says that any child out of a formal school is child labour.  If this is true can we describe all the self- learners  as child laborers?


Again, M.V. Foundation looks upon all work/labour as hazardous, which harm the overall growth of the child. This is a dangerous proposition. I do not know how MV Foundation has come to such a conclusion. All progressive educationists of the world (John Dewey, Mahatma Gandhi, Tolstoy, Vinoba Bhave, Rabinranath Tagore, Gopabandhu Das and others) have advocated inclusion of manual work in the school curriculum. I do not think they have advocated this blindly without going deep into the matter. Many psychologists and physiologists recommend physical labour for children as necessary for their all-round mental, intellectual, and moral development. It is therefore, surprising that M.V. Foundation presents all work/labour as hazardous. This has to be examined.


Many international agencies, so-called educationists/consultants of the country are also thinking along this line.  I object to this on two counts: to promote the M.V. foundation stand seems like international conspiracy to make people idle and dependent on the establishment, so that protest against an unjust social order becomes impossible. Being educated in the formal schools and taught with utter contempt for work, people will lose confidence in themselves. Secondly, nowadays, those who are in the international agencies do not seem to understand the impact of formal education and the ground realities.  Gandhi once observed: “Without the use of our hands and feet our brain would atrophy, and even if it worked it would be the home of Satan” (Mahatma Gandhi’s inaugural address at the Wardha Conference).   This has been our experience with formal schools.


Some voluntary agencies of this country, it seems, will do anything for  money. They can adopt any viewpoints for the sake of funding. Let’s take the case of an organisation working in Kalahandi in Orissa. Five years back, they criticized the functioning of government schools and developed a proposal for alternative educational system to get sanction for running night schools under the scheme of ‘Innovative and Experimental Education’ of Government of India.  They then ran some schools for some time with the support of Government of India. For the sake of funding, they have now changed their stand and replicated the MV Foundation model in Nuapada district with the financial support of UNDP.              


Under the influence of MV foundation and the pressure of fundamental right to education group,  all international agencies have restricted funding to alternative initiatives, saying that education is the responsibility of the state. Government of India is also diluting the scheme of experimental and innovative education.


However, I do not advocate setting up alternative schools with the support of international agencies or with government support. Rabindranath Tagore set up Viswa Bharati mobilizing resources himself.  In Orissa, the Satyabadi Grove School was set up in 1909 by Gopabandhu Das inspiring likeminded associates to contribute to this initiative. Such initiatives are possible in the present context too but dedication is needed. With less dedication and sacrifice, some voluntary organizations are running alternative schools and highlighting the ills of the present system of education. But even this kind of initiative is dying due to M.V. Foundation’s move in this direction. I do not understand why M.V. Foundation lays so much stress on government’s role in education?


Vinoba Bhave wrote: “Throughout the world education is under the control of the governments. This is extremely dangerous. Government ought to have no authority over education.  The work of education should be in the hands of wisdom, but government have got it in their grasp; every student in the country has to study whatever book is prescribed by the education department. If the government is fascist, students will be taught fascism; if it is communist, it will preach communism; if it is capitalist, it will proclaim the greatness of capitalism.; if its believes in planning, the students will be taught  all about planning. We in India used to hold to the principle that education should be completely free from state control. Kings exercised no authority over the gurus. The king had absolutely no power to control education. The consequences was that Sanskrit literature achieved a degree of freedom of thought such as can be seen nowhere else, so much so that no less than six mutually incompatible philosophies have arisen within the Hindu philosophy. This vigor is due to the freedom of education from the state control.” (Deschooling Our Lives. Stony Creek, CT: New Society Publishers.)


Henry David Thoreau in his article on the duty of Civil Disobedience wrote:  “ I heartily accept the motto , -“That the government is the  best which governs the least;” and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically . Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe , -“ That government is best which governs not at all;” and when men are prepared for it , that will be the kind of government which they will have. Government is at best but an expedient; but most governments are usually, and all governments are sometimes, inexpedient.”


I feel I do not have any thing more to say about the role of government in education after going through these two viewpoints voiced  by Vinoba Bhave and  Henry David Thoreau.


From Gurveen Kaur gurveenkaur@rediffmail.com

Giving Work Its Due

WHY is it that most of us think of all work as drudgery? Why is it that we--and our children--no longer voluntarily choose to do work and if we have to do it, why do we turn in sloppy work? Why is there is no sense of pride in our work? Why do we need to be supervised if we are to turn in reasonably well-done work? Why do children resent it if even the smallest task or household chore is assigned to them? Why is it that most people who have a job do it badly, grudgingly and out of compulsion?


Why is it that we never think of work as fun or worthwhile? Why is it that we no longer value work as anything more than a means of earning money? Is work to be valued only for extrinsic reasons? Does work have no intrinsic value? These are the questions that I sought to answer as I began this exercise.

Examining our attitudes

Feudalism bears some responsibility for converting work into labour and with the advent of industrialization the process was completed. For most people, work gradually came to mean only employment or labour. This is a fact that, I think, most Marxian theory is based upon. Which is the reason it sees ‘work’ as alienating and quite rightly stresses sufficient payment as the only recompense/rationale for the effort and time invested. This is the background of our present day thinking about work as labour. It is the reason that we see work only as drudgery and a means of earning money.


In equating all work with labour, we look at work as something that cannot be enjoyable/enjoyed, therefore voluntarily undertaken, independent of the remuneration. It is this attitude that has led us to devalue the real role and innate importance of work --- in our lives, homes, the workplace and the country. This is why most people today approach work as if it were of little intrinsic value. Nowadays we value all employment/effort mainly for it’s extrinsic value, which has led us to over-valuing labour at the cost of work. We seem unaware of and/or neglect the intrinsic worth of work: as a means of self-realization, fulfilment, and a natural outlet for our energies and talents.  


Hannah Arendt in her book The Human Condition makes a distinction between work and labour, to draw our attention to the intrinsic value of work. According to Hannah Arendt, work is something we engage in, usually voluntarily, for its intrinsic worth, that is because we see value in the doing of it, as well as in the product. This is why a worker feels more closely related to the work and the quality of its end product.  Labour, on the other hand, is toil or hardship, something we undertake, usually on someone else’s behest, because of its extrinsic value for us. It is the price we pay for whatever advantages the rewards of the labour will buy. We do not necessarily value the process or the product, but value what the reward/ payment it can get us. In a sense, we undertake the labour/drudgery because we value the payment.


Unlike the case of work we are not really engaging in the exercise for its own sake, nor are we really involved in it beyond the limited role assigned to us, we don’t necessarily care for the quality of the end product.


However, Hannah Arendt, while she admits to the intrinsic value of work fails to recognize the intrinsic worth of labour, thus failing to accord any other role to labour in our lives, beyond being a means of earning a living. A deeper understanding of the role of labour in our lives gave our ancestors a better attitude to labour. It is the acknowledgement of the intrinsic value of labour, which we often do not recognize, that trains us to undertake non-glamorous bits of work with gladness. Our ancestors clearly recognized the value of toil and hardship that served to toughen us up and take a less whimsical and more responsible approach to work. It helps us appreciate that while even hard work can be enjoyable, work is not mere play - to be indulged in when and if one feels like it. Work requires we submit to it and be obedient to the dictates of time and context within which it must be done. The very nature of the work we do has other inbuilt constraints, compulsions and necessities which are unavoidable if we are to do that work and do it well.  It is recognition of this feature/ characteristic of work that makes us better disciplined and more responsible.


While it is important to recognize and acknowledge that some types of jobs are nothing but monotonous toil and drudgery, we must also note that some aspect of all types of jobs and professions involve some amount of toil and drudgery, even the most glamorous. (One might look at this as God’s way of building in the means of our spiritual growth into everyday routine!).


If work derives its value from being personally meaningful, labour derives its meaning from its social relevance --- although the two are not mutually exclusive.* (My thanks to Usha Raman for pointing this out to me.) (No doubt some people in the past have over-emphasized the non-monetary the value of labour to exploit and to keep people within their caste or class, but that cannot be the reason for ignoring/ neglecting the intrinsic value of labour.) This is the reason that society must accord a special place to the labourers. They undertake jobs that are often unpleasant to keep society functioning smoothly.


What further complicates the issue is the fact that those who labour usually don’t have a choice of doing otherwise. It is because some people labour that others have the luxury and privilege of working. These considerations have led to the suggestion, which might seem bizarre to us in the present context and therefore has never been seriously taken up, that work should be paid less than labour.


A distinction that was intended to help us better understand the difference between work and labour has instead left us unable to appreciate the intrinsic value of both: work and labour. Instead of serving to focus attention upon the exploitative and alienating aspects of labour, it has served to convert work into labour. In equating work with labour we have ended up becoming people who forgot the joy of working, turning most of us into labourers, never mind how large the pay check, the position or status.


On the other hand, overemphasis on the recompense as remuneration blind us to non-monetary types of exploitation. It failed to lead us to discover the exploitation in not just labour, but work too. One tends to overlook the fact that even people in chosen fields of work, which they enjoy and find fulfilling, are also exploited; by the hours they are required to work with high stress – as the only constant in their work sphere, which their dazzling, high pay cheques do not compensate for. Overemphasis on the remuneration factor focuses exclusively on the alienation for under-paid labour but obscures the resultant work-engendered alienation that highly paid workers suffer from their families or any kind of social life.


While we are not equating the two kinds of exploitation, a failure to recognize its non-monetary aspect is to again look at exploitation only in one dimension. This of course/however does not mean that one is endorsing the division between workers and labourers or the disparity between the wages of both. 


Such an unwholesome and lop-sided attitude to work cripples our capacity and appreciation for the importance and role of work and labour in our lives. We have unfortunately passed on this attitude to work to our children and so should not be surprised if they shun work. Let us examine how this has spilled over into the way we raise and educate our children.


Deriving Meaning from Work

The Anti-Child Labour Campaign has left many of us confused. Should we ask children to work? Isn’t that equivalent to using cheap/unpaid child labour? We wonder if we are infringing on child rights, especially considering that children are not in a position to refuse to work if asked. Parents and teachers are no longer sure whether they should ask children to do any work and hesitate to assign any work responsibilities to children today. They are afraid of being accused of using ‘cheap child labour’ and drawing the wrath of ‘Anti-Child Labour Campaign’ activists.


This confusion can only be the result of our modern understanding of all work as labour. The Anti-Child Labour Campaign is clearly, and very rightly so, against child labour. No child should have to labour, that is to earn a living. Children often have to work for a living but that is a compulsion due to circumstances, not a desired state of affairs. No one would advocate labour for children but that is not the same thing as saying that children should not work. Here one is obviously not talking of hours of tiring, backbreaking work but interest, age and capacity appropriate responsibilities. For some reason we forget or ignore the fact that this campaign is against exploitative labour and a pointer to those people who think nothing of sending a child for hours of backbreaking, monotonous, mind numbing and/or body crippling labour. We conveniently forget that it is not work as such that is bad or wrong but the exploitation of the capacity to work.


We no longer think it right to assign work to our children even within our homes. A child of seven plus years decides to keep a puppy, but do we explain that s/he has to share, then gradually take on the responsibility of, the task of taking the dog for walks, training, cleaning the messes, feeding or bathing it? We feel guilty doing so or we allow it to be done if and when the child feels like it or has the time. Even small jobs--polish your own shoes, tidy your room, make the bed--are no longer assigned to children in more privileged homes.


The attitude we have conveyed to our children is that menial work is below our station in life.  Let the child treat the mother as a servant but the dear child must not be told to lift his finger! (Yet, on the other hand, we have no hesitation committing physically healthy, energetic children to hours of sitting still on hard benches, in cramped spaces, submitting to mind numbing, mentally taxing unending studies; which we do not recognize to be work!)


Children must be initiated gradually to work and prepared for adult life just as in other spheres. Beginning with picking up or replacing toys after playing with them, to taking care of one’s belongings, to helping with small chores around the house to graduating to taking on independent responsibility for some job that needs to be done around the house. If we confuse work with labour and neglect to introduce our children to the meaning and role of work in our lives we fail to teach them an important truth.


We thereby rob/cheat them of opportunities of learning to shoulder responsibility and discover the joy of contributing towards the home and family. This same training would become the basis of teaching social responsibility.  Without this, social responsibility would be too much to expect from our children, who are never taught and therefore never ever learn to be responsible for themselves.


Equating work with labour and the emphasis on the remuneration factor colours the factors influencing our choice of work and the careers of our children. Nowadays we choose our profession based upon what we want to earn and we are afraid that the child might not take up more remunerative career. This was obvious at the recent parent-teacher meeting that I attended where the point under consideration was what optional subject each child should take. For most parents the determining factor was not the ability, interest or aptitude of the child but the subject’s potential as a mark fetcher or ‘future job prospects’. S/he may find that that work can be enjoyable, fun, challenging, worthwhile and/or interesting for it’s own sake. However, because we see work only as a means of earning money that we no longer care to choose or advise our children to choose a profession appropriate to one’s capability or aptitude, interest, inclination or talent. We no longer say to our children, “ Find something that you like to do, and you will never work a day in your life”. 


We miss out on showing our children the important distinction between the worth of work based not upon extrinsic rewards (salary, money, payments) but on the intrinsic value of work. Be it teaching, farming, medicine, research, mechanics, gardening, music, painting, sculpting, cooking, cleaning, tailoring…the reason for choosing it, is that it gives creative and/or useful vent to what we can do best naturally. Work that is interest, aptitude, and challenge appropriate is fulfilling and satisfying. It is a means of self-realization and self-actualisation/development; the truly educational experience.


In the process we have lost an invaluable educational medium. Work is the best form of education and a medium that is an excellent correction to the academic bias of the education system. If we could appreciate the role of work in our education, we would not only have a better, natural method of education but also stop mistaking academics for education. Needless to say that it would be a blessing for those children who are less academically inclined but not only for them.


How many times better than the specially designed, self-correcting Montessori equipment is the natural workshop of work in teaching self-discipline, responsibility and time-management through self-correction built into the very nature of work. It makes all cajoling, coaxing, bribing, scolding totally redundant. Work has in-built discipline in it; in its time frames, material/medium constraints. But our attitude to work robs our children of this opportunity of learning discipline the natural way.


We mislead our children when we pass on to them our criterion of evaluating people on the basis of their pay packets. Instead of teaching children that it is not the profession or trade that one engages in, but the quality of one’s work that is indicative of the true worth of the person, we teach them otherwise. Evaluating people on the quality of their work and/or skill level gives one a slightly more level and fair playing ground; where the role of privileged background and/or handicap is no longer the only determining factor of success. Instead today children see that we measure our self worth by our pay packets and the market value of the work and bother less about its quality.


All around children see people who think of work as drudgery and turn in sloppy work. Everyone wants to cut whatever corners they can. How far we have gone from the attitude “Work is worship”. Given this how can we communicate to our children the joy of work, the thrill of work well-done, of the pleasure of not cutting corners, or the deep satisfaction of something that turns out well because we did not stint in doing our very best? The sense of worth, of achievement, of satisfaction, of fulfilment, that accompanies the much-awaited and hard-earned success, that follows repeated delays, frustrations and only because of one’s dogged perseverance and unstinting effort is incomparable.


And, because we can never teach or pass on what we don’t know, feel, experience or practice ourselves, how can we communicate the joy of the labour of love? Some routine chores done for the family be it cooking, sweeping, dusting, cleaning. Or, some service voluntarily undertaken for someone old or anyone you love, like baking a cake, making a favourite dish or frying jalebis….The reward is in the pleasure it gives to the doer/worker/giver on seeing the happiness on the receiver’s face. We, however, have cut ourselves off from all these simple pleasures that we can receive from choosing to do some work voluntarily as a pure labour of love.


How many opportunities of meaningful, pleasurable togetherness we miss when we don’t experience the joy of engaging in some work together with our children as our partners/fellow workers. The happy companionship of women working together in the kitchen, or mothers and daughters about the house, or sons and fathers in the garden or garage…(and to be politically, gender correct, let’s exchange the jobs between the sexes). The bond between parents and children is not just strengthened but deepened/ enriched when they stand together, shoulder to shoulder, to await the results of something they worked hard to achieve together. The shared anxiety, the sadness, grief, joy, elation and the sweet satisfaction of success take on a very different meaning when experienced with our loved ones.


We seem to have forgotten the joy that is experienced on the purchase of something for which we’ve worked hard, and saved patiently over several months or years. No matter how expensive a purchase, its value is immeasurably diminished if it is not the fruit of our own hard-earned effort.

Maybe it’s high time we looked into the value of things for themselves that is the intrinsic value of activities and not for what they help us acquire or the extrinsic worth. Let us stop becoming labourers, which is what most of us have become, even if we have the most impressive pay cheques and important sounding designations. Let’s rediscover the value and importance of work and labour in our lives. Let’s for a change have fun as we work seriously with commitment and communicate this to all those around us, particularly our children.


From Coumba Toure kuumbati@sentoo.sn  

The Balance of Life

I always wonder

What happened to the balance of life...?

So that everything is so split up and militarized, including learning and working.


What happen when work is only valuable in a bondage system or watered down copy of it. When most of our struggles are over how much does it get watered down. When government priorities are about unemployment and workers unions stand for only raises in salaries. I wonder, can't we go a little deeper?


Don’t we want a little better? Can we see a little further?


What happened to the balance of life?

When learning is only valuable in a formal school system or a watered down copy of it. When again most of our struggle is how much it gets watered down and how many can have access to it. So that government priorities are to build more schools and progressive NGOs fight for better schools.


Don't we want try a little better?  Don’t we want to make a different world?


I wonder what happened to the balance of life.


When “work” and “learning” abuses are daily present for adults and worst for children, because the concepts of “work" and “learning" in the global economy model are ones that fit an occidental and capitalist system. When “learning” and “working” is such that it alienates people (including children) from themselves, from their families, and from their environment.


I wonder what happened to the balance of life

When children cannot work to learn and learn to work without being used or abused. When they are just seen from every side (those who use them and those who defend them) as more hands, a little bit more disciplined, a little bit more coercible, a little less mind and will.


Yes, children have to be taken out of these work alleys

Especially if every child taken out could drag along the mothers and the aunts, the fathers and the uncles, the brothers, the sisters and all the cousins.  

We all know how work is a different concept when people work for themselves. Any one who has ever had a boss knows something about bondage. Any one who has ever worked for themselves knows something about freedom.


Children can and will work without being abused, only when work is towards self-determination, and when their work is valued and exchangeable with equity. When the split between work and learn is bridged.


Yes children should be taken out of classrooms

Especially if every child taken out can drag along the mothers and the fathers, the brothers and the sisters out of the school mentality and bring them to learn and to work by creating learning space for them.


It would be a different concept of education. And everyone who has been to schools knows something about living by the rules.  And any one who has skipped school days or never been to school knows something about the freedom to think.


We can create spaces of learning and spaces of working where children do not have to run away to feel free, and parents do not have to sacrifice family life to feed their children. We can create spaces of working and learning that come together to free children and their parents.  We can create a diversity of combinations so that different people can find what they need.


It will take much more that a general plan, much more than general rule. It takes especially entrusting parents and children to know what they want and what is good from them. It includes breaking down the institutions that support the lethargies of people.


It takes a little more to fight for a little better, to go a little further. And it must start with each of us.


I wonder what happened to the balance of life

So that even our dreams, even our thoughts, are boxed in... 



From Vivek Bhandari vbhandari@hampshire.edu


Need for De-Professionalizing


How and why have connotations of “work” changed in the modern period? 

The answer to this question is intimately tied to the ways in which historically, particular forms of social and political organization have acquired hegemony because of the forces of modern imperialism and discourses of “modernization.”  


Since the beginning of the eighteenth century, when the transformations unleashed by industrialization and capitalism restructured society and culture in profound ways, the single most dramatic shift occurred in the “workplace”: the way that people related to the natural world that they inhabited. 


I think it is fair to say that the age of modernity has been, at the most fundamental level a period in which man has become further and further removed from the material, natural world that he inhabits to the point that this separation has become a marker of success.  This separation of man from nature, which critics of capitalism like Karl Marx described as “alienation,” lies at the heart of the way in which notions of “good” work versus the “bad” kind have been reconfigured in the modern period.


Most people associate modernity with the emergence of modern industrialization and the valorization of technocratic forms of thinking.  Since the eighteenth century, these led to the privileging of bureaucratic forms of organization, statist forms of power, imperial forms of cultural hegemony, and more recently, the dominance of discourses of management and “development.”  Taken together, these forces have set the parameters of the hyper-rational mindset that today enjoys pride of place among policy makers in the highest echelons of power. 


The biggest casualty of this historical shift has been the devaluing of the pre-modern nature of work, in which humans worked in close proximity to the material, natural world.  In pre-modern arrangements, humans were forced to respect nature, and this allowed them to evolve social and cultural institutions, which were materially embedded without being weighed down by hyper-rational forms of organization described above.  In stark contrast to these arrangements, today, forms of social ordering are most visible in the ways that work is “professionalized” and individuals are forced to adopt narrow linear trajectories of specialization in their working lives.  Historically, the hardening of such trajectories is intimately tied to two things:


Firstly, all forms of knowledge that are valued in the academy and workplace have come to be understood narrowly in terms of academic disciplines (and facile distinctions such the supposed difference between the arts and sciences). Related to this is the separation of the world of professions (medicine, engineering, management, etc.) from that of the more “hands-on” vocations (such as carpentry, masonry, etc.).  A third, somewhat related separation is between the sciences (which supposedly rely on the use of particular forms of rationality), and the arts (which are allegedly less weighed-down by the requirements of rationality).


All of these separations have had a profound effect on the way that people in modern society understand the work that they do.  Despite their mind-numbing and dehumanizing quality, professional trajectories are generally considered markers of success and achievement in today’s world; the less technocratic forms of work, or those that involve human contact with natural materials (wood, metal, earth) are viewed with disdain and derision.  It is ironic that virtually every critic of modern society (Gandhi, Tolstoy, Emerson, Thoreau, the list is endless) has decried the separation of man from nature. 


Today, as we deal with extraordinary levels of disenchantment among professional groups, and the growing marginalization of groups that rely on alternative forms of livelihood, it is critical that we evolve creative mechanisms and spaces that facilitate the de-institutionalization of knowledge.  The historical emergence of the professions, which is a pernicious side-effect the recent history of capitalist exploitation and colonialism, should force us to re-evaluate the place of “shram” in our society.