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June 11, 2008

Teachers' and agricultural workers' unions join forces to demand rural education for all

For millions of rural children quality education remains just a distant dream. Figures from Education For All (EFA) Global Monitoring Report 2007 show that the children most likely not in school or to drop out of school live in rural areas and come from the poorest households. Data from a number of African countries looking at 10 -19 year olds suggest that poor or rural children are ten times more likely to drop out than urban or richer children.

This backs up earlier findings of the 2006 Millenium Development Goal (MDGs) Report which stated that whilst progress is being made in improving access to primary education, there are disparities in progress, and that the poorest, often those in rural areas, were being left behind. The report stated that “High rates of poverty in rural areas limit educational opportunities because of demands for children’s labour, low levels of parental education and lack of access to good quality schooling”.

The lack of educational opportunities has to be seen against the background of widespread child labour in rural areas, agriculture being the biggest single user, accounting for 70% of the world's child labour. Agriculture is one of the most dangerous industries to work in terms of deaths, injuries and work-related ill health, and many of these children work in hazardous child labour that puts their health and safety at risk, including work-related health problems that can carry on into adulthood. Withdrawing children from hazardous work and getting them into schools is not a straightforward or easy process. Children have often fallen behind educationally and require special education services. A period of rehabilitation before they can be fully integrated into the educational system may also be required. All this places extra burdens on teachers and schools, and of course resources must be available.

Working in rural schools is more difficult than teaching in urban areas, mainly because of poor living and working conditions. This can be de-motivating. Consequently rural schools have fewer qualified and experienced teachers, and teacher turnover is high. (24 countries of 176 countries with data have more than 40 pupils per teacher, 20 of which are in sub-Saharan Africa (2008). Pupil/teacher ratios (PTR) above 40:1 usually mean that countries have too few teachers, that teachers are overstretched, and that the quality of teaching and learning suffers. The 2007 report says that consideration should be given to incentives that attract teachers to rural areas.

The needs of girl children have to be addressed. Their brothers often get priority for attending school and girls are expected to help in the fields or go into domestic service. In 2005, a UNESCO/UNICEF survey found that in Africa about 50% of urban boys complete grade 7, but only 7% of rural girls. Again, too few female teachers, who are important role models for girls to stay in school, is a problem especially for rural education.

To mark WDACL 2008, EI and IUF have agreed to a plan of work which will focus on:

• Awareness raising about child labor in rural communities, including with teachers;

• Building local level links between teachers' unions and agricultural workers unions;

• Campaigning and lobbying governments to improve rural education.

Some work has already been done. In Kyrgyzstan, the Agricultural Workers Union works together with the Teachers Union on the elimination of child labour in agriculture. Teachers monitor the school attendance during harvest and organise meetings with parents, where they inform them about the negative effects of labour on children’s health and schooling.

EI and IUF welcome the conclusions of this year's ILC discussion on rural employment for poverty reduction which state that public policy should provide access to quality, compulsory, free basic public education. Further, the report recognises that quality education is the key tool in eliminating child labour.