Development can sometimes deteriorate education

Development in broad sense can be defined as 'increasing incomes of people'. I blogged earlier that the mechanisms of development are as important as the headline numbers. In simpler terms, growth can be jobless.

In an attempt to strive towards job generating growth, construction is being seen as the prime lever. Considering that manufacturing jobs are difficult to generate and are fast prone to automation, construction sector provides an easy temporary mechanism to improve incomes of people.

More jobs in construction, higher and stable incomes to people is a good thing. But, we must also note that construction sometimes has a potential effect to hurt the education of children, the future workers. 

In a normal scenario, one can argue that increasing incomes due to construction puts more disposable income in hands of people. Parents can then educate their kids better. But it needn't be the case always. It sounds counter intuitive but development or job generation through construction accompanied by migration, can adversely affect school education. 

Consider this - a family migrates from rural Bihar to Kerala in search of construction work. Families typically stay closer to construction site. The construction work at a particular site is typically for few months. After completing the work at a particular site, they move to a different location.

Now, think of the kids of their families. They face two problems. 

One, kids of these migrant workers can't speak the same language as that of their surround environment. Considering that first generation learners can learn better in mother tongue, this results in some issues.

Two, kids can't attend a particular school continuously because their parents are always moving.

India Together (IT) has a good story on the challenges being faced by Kerala teachers with respect to migrant children. Some teachers are taking an active interest in bringing these kids back to school but they are unable to converse with these children due to language issues. Naturally, they can't keep kids longer in schools. Added to it is the fact that parents shift locations continuously.

The net effect is that education of the children of these migrant workers is adversely affected due to their parents' profession. In other words, development achieved through job generation in construction sector, accompanied by migration, needn't be 'education neutral'.

This is similar to the phenomenon of disaster risk. It is argued that development isn't 'disaster risk' neutral. It can increase disaster risk. For instance, if people start living in close knit urban communities due to urbanization, and if the buildings aren't planned properly, an earth quake will now result in more casualties than earlier.

Given the massive push for job generation in construction sector, one needs to think through these problems in detail. Stopping job generation in construction isn't a solution. We need to instead work on containing its side effects. We may note that some of these problems are also associated with seasonal migrants.

Policy solutions

Before thinking of new approaches to support migrant children, we may have to first think of existing rules that are ruling out support to these children. 

The India Together (IT) report says that the SSA funds to provide uniforms etc. can only be given to children in school rolls. Given that children of migrant families attend school rarely, they don't even get this support. India Together report says that in some places, teachers are roping in local organizations to support these students. 

The first step can hence be to amend rules giving flexibility to accommodate such cases.

Kerala government on its part has started special centres for migrant children with volunteers to assist children. It may only be a stop-gap solution but still something is better than nothing. One can think of turning these into full-scale centres with adequate support.

The boarding school approach that I discussed in an earlier post is also suitable solution here. In fact, it may be the first-best solution. Given that these students are facing a disruptive home environment adversely affecting their education, all such children can be put in free boarding schools. Since all students are together, one can also recruit special teachers of particular language.

However, one must be careful that the boarding schools have to be planned properly. They have to be proper boarding schools. In order to save costs, some times the government constructs a hostel near a government school and associates all children of that hostel with that particular school. Though this still provides free food and lodging to children, the full benefits of boarding school aren't realized.

In such schools, where a school is separate and hostel is separate, students don't get after-school support. Considering that the migrant children are typically behind the schedule, it's difficult for them to catch up without extra support. 

Added to this is the fact migrant children have to study with other local children in the school. Teachers therefore usually tend to teach in local language. Also, teachers' focus on completing the syllabus, and usually tend to teach at the level of the median child.

These conditions aren't conducive to migrant children who speak different language and are also far behind the grade levels. 

In other words, the boarding schools have to ensure appropriate after-school support to children, along with necessary support in schools in their own language.


Conclusion

Development achieved through job generation in construction sector, accompanied by migrant labour has potential to disrupt the education of children of migrant workers. It's due to the language difficulties faced by the children and also the lack of stable school system.

We need to think through this problem and take appropriate steps to address it. The first step is to amend rules giving flexibility to use SSA funds towards such children. Opening special training centers to bridge the gaps is a temporary solution. On a permanent basis, free boarding schools can be opened for such children. One should also keep in mind that the boarding schools should ensure instruction in language of the children and also provide appropriate after-school support in order to achieve the desired results.


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