Authors : Jasodhara Bhattacharya, Fabrice Tanoh , Shamina Shaheen, Kaja Jasińska
Type of publication : Article
Date of publication : October 2021
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Relation between School Quality and Child Labor
High-quality infrastructure has a host of positive benefits on school quality. It facilitates better instruction, improves student outcomes, and reduces dropout rates. The availability, relevance, and adequacy of facilities including the building, classroom furniture, recreational equipment apparatus, and other instructional materials has been linked to higher academic achievement. Similarly, studies that have investigated the school environment (characterized by the presence of certain basic services such as public latrines, electricity, availability of a canteen, the presence of a drinking water point, and class size) in Côte d’Ivoire and students’ performance have found that such basic services can play an important role in children’s learning.
Given that Côte d’Ivoire currently invests approximately 3.3% of its GDP on education, which is below the world average education expenditure of 4.5%, investing in school quality to reduce child labor rates might more fully realize the gains from the education reforms implemented against the backdrop of a larger continental focus on the importance of quality education for Africa’s future and the shift in global discourse from education access to quality. However our understanding of how improving education quality may deter child labor is nascent.
Approximately 1 in 3 children (38%) self-reported working in cocoa agriculture. Furthermore, children who reported working on a cocoa plantation were likely to be engaged in multiple cocoa agricultural tasks. The most commonly reported tasks were related to the cocoa harvest (moving pods, fermenting pods) and farm maintenance (cleaning fields, weeding). The least commonly reported cocoa agricultural tasks in our sample were spreading fertilizer, insecticides and other chemicals, albeit as much as 9% of children self-reported being engaged in these hazardous tasks. In addition 35% of children reported breaking open and fermenting pods and 19% reported cutting trees, both of which require the use of a sharp tool, and are considered hazardous forms of labor for children.
The majority of children also reported completing domestic and economic activities (e.g. >90% reported household chores such as cleaning and doing laundry, 86% reported fetching water). The strong positive correlations we found between all forms of work (domestic, economic, agricultural) indicate that children who reported doing more tasks in one category were also likely to report doing more tasks in another.
Demographic and Socioeconomic Predictors of Child Labor
Our results indicate that older children worked more relative to their younger peers across all three domains of labor (domestic, economic, and cocoa agriculture). We found that gender is associated with labor, with girls participating in more domestic tasks, and boys in more economic and cocoa agriculture tasks. The engagement of girls and boys in different kinds of labor has been previously noted. Across many contexts, girls are more likely than boys to work inside the home doing household chores, childcare, and elder care.
Approximately 1 in 3 children (38%) self-reported working in cocoa agriculture. Furthermore, children who reported working on a cocoa plantation were likely to be engaged in multiple cocoa agricultural tasks
Interestingly, we found small positive associations between SES and domestic and economic labor, but not cocoa labor. This positive relationship between SES, schooling and potentially hidden forms of child labor such as domestic labor may indicate the complexity of the micro-relationships underlying this phenomenon. One mechanism by which SES specifically impacts child labor may be that children who engage in domestic and economic tasks (non-agricultural income-generating activities) indirectly contribute to family SES. For example, in replacing parental household labor, they allow their parents to pursue more income-generating activities, which in turn may contribute to higher household SES.
Our findings are situated within existing literature on school quality in Côte d’Ivoire and in SSA more generally. Primary schools in SSA face challenges in implementing high-quality primary education due to worn building infrastructure, a shortage of motivated and educated teachers, large class sizes, and insufficient teaching materials and classroom resources, and insufficient teaching and learning materials in local languages. The majority of teachers surveyed in this study reported facing multiple problems at their school, chief among them problems with a lack of teaching human resources, child appropriate materials, school supplies, infrastructure (latrines, water), and large class sizes.
In terms of school infrastructure, our results indicate that 68% of schools had electricity, 55% of schools had latrines and only 32% had access to drinking water. Given the lack of latrines and water in many schools, it is perhaps not surprising that 55% of teachers reported public health problems in their schools.
Our findings, that higher school quality is associated with lower rates of child labor, and specifically it predicts lower child agricultural cocoa labor rates, suggests that families do not want their children to labor on cocoa farms if they have the option to send children to high quality schools
Our results showed that some classes contained as many as 76 children. This is higher than the Ivorian target class size of 40 students as per the Ivorian Ministry of Planning and Development’s Strategic Education Plan for 2015-2025 (2021), and higher than the observed average student: teacher ratio of 43:1 observed in Côte d’Ivoire. This average Ivorian student: teacher ratio is still high relative to, for example, international targets for pre-primary school of 20:1.
With respect to teachers’ qualifications, most, but not all, teachers in our study reported completing a Pedagogical Aptitude Certificate (the Ivorian requirement for teaching), suggesting that many under-qualified teachers are working in rural schools. It is important to consider that teachers who in fact did not have this certification may have been reluctant to report their accurate credentials, or lack thereof, in our questionnaire.
Theorized Mechanisms by which School Quality Impacts Child Labor
One potential powerful mechanism linking school quality and child labor may be parents’ (or caretakers, or other family members) opportunity-cost decision to send children to school, rather than to cocoa plantation, when school quality improves. In poor households faced with severely limited options, parents may face the draconian choice of weighing the future benefit of sending children to school symmetrically with immediate economic survival of the household of their children working on a cocoa plantation. The parents may prefer their children to go to school, but when faced with higher costs of schooling or low quality of schools, may prefer that their children either combine school and work or only work.
In terms of school infrastructure, our results indicate that 68% of schools had electricity, 55% of schools had latrines and only 32% had access to drinking water. Given the lack of latrines and water in many schools, it is perhaps not surprising that 55% of teachers reported public health problems in their schools
Consider that education in Côte d’Ivoire, while universal, has associated fees: government school fees are 6,000 FCFA (~10 USD); the cost of school uniforms and supplies (school textbooks are not provided by the school) range from 30,000 FCFA over 50,000 FCFA (~50-90 USD) according to the child’s grade; and there are fees applied by COGES (School Management Committee consisting of parents of students, teachers and the principal, akin to a parent-teacher association) ranging from 5,000 over 20,000 FCFA (~9-35 USD), which is typically allocated for funding construction of new school buildings, latrines, etc., or other needs, depending on the school. Therefore, schooling costs for each child can range from 70 to 135 USD which, given the average annual cocoa farmer income 3,000 USD and the average number of school-age children in these households being between 5 and 8, can represent over 35% of the average household income. This burden of the direct costs of schooling has been suggested by prior research.
School quality may also influence child labor through teachers, specifically teacher absenteeism as a result of inadequate school facilities and infrastructure or classroom structure. If the school lacks a latrine, water, and/or electricity, a teacher may be less inclined to come to work and stay for the entire duration of the school day. Similarly, if teachers face overwhelmingly large class sizes, or if there are insufficient learning and teaching materials available and limited school supplies, then teachers may feel ill prepared to teach to a classroom which frequently has children of different ages and skill levels. This would diminish teachers’ motivation and contribute to lower education quality in the classroom and increased teacher absenteeism. An absent teacher may result in cancelled classes, and children may return home and to the plantation to work in the home or in the fields.
Implications for Policy and Practice
Our findings, that higher school quality is associated with lower rates of child labor, and specifically it predicts lower child agricultural cocoa labor rates, suggests that families do not want their children to labor on cocoa farms if they have the option to send children to high quality schools. This has implications for both education and child labor policy formulation and implementation. First, school quality can be a nuanced policy tool to reduce child labor which nudges the largely household decision about children working on family farms. This novel approach can augment existing mandates such as child labor bans or compulsory attendance, which may be blunter instruments against the breadth of reasons why individual families may be noncompliant. We forward that child labor policies can be strengthened by including and measuring school quality, with consideration given to quality infrastructure that provides access to basic services alongside materials and human resources.
School quality may also influence child labor through teachers, specifically teacher absenteeism as a result of inadequate school facilities and infrastructure or classroom structure
Second, our findings highlight the importance of strengthening, expanding and evaluating high quality infrastructure. Indeed the Ivorian government’s National and Education Sector Plans under the Global Partnership for Education (2017) aims to improve the quality of education and calls for quality school infrastructure and improved school safety, hygiene, and health in rural areas by constructing more latrines, hand washing systems, and drinking water points at schools. The government also plans to construct 3,000 additional classrooms per year and rehabilitate 5% of existing classrooms, to reduce class sizes and improve student-teacher ratios. We forward that aligning new high quality school infrastructure, and updates to infrastructure, around community-identified basic services of importance ) may shift household perceptions about the value of schools and schooling in their communities, and nudge household decisions around the opportunity-cost of sending children to school.
Third, in alignment with the myriad mechanisms through which school quality likely acts on parents and children to influence the household decision around child cocoa labor, multiple entry points are needed to nudge households along the continuum of children-only-working to children-only-going-to-school. We forward that the Ivorian plan to implement and expand high quality infrastructure can be an opportunity to strengthen life-wide learning through a high quality out-of-school education, which includes infrastructure, materials and human resources.