There are number of aspects to the issue of relevance of education. The most important one is, why is it that the relevance criterion is applied first to working children and that not in school. Schools and the education system in general have for a very long time been ‘serving’ irrelevant education to everyone. Who can say if the famous Doon school provides the most relevant education? However, for those parents habituated to sending their children to school this has never been a reason for not sending a child to school. For them the choice has never been to send their child to school, which provides relevant education, or to send them to work. They simply send the child to whichever school they think provides the best education at the price they can afford. That is why there are schools of widely varying quality in existence. So why is it that one talks of relevance of education only when it comes to working children? The problem of relevance is something that afflicts the education system as a whole and cannot be an excuse for keeping working children away from schools. It has to be tackled at a completely different level.
The second aspect of the issue is that one should see school primarily as an institution that enforces a child’s right to childhood by keeping the child away from work. It is here that the true nature of formal day school emerges. Formal schools, especially in the rural context have always been accused of not providing relevant education that would enable the child to be a productive entity. They have been ridiculed for functioning in a manner that deprives the family of the child’s inputs in the labour market when it is needed most. It is therefore, suggested that schools should provide ‘ vocational’ education often on the lines of a ‘earn while you learn’ scheme and that schools should be closed during peak agriculture work season as for instance the harvesting season so that the child can contribute to the family income.
A closer look at these so called ‘defects’ of the formal school system shows that it is precisely on account of these so called ‘defects’ that these schools should be supported. Vocational education very often is only a euphemism for perpetuating the presence of the child in the labour market from an early age. As for the timings of the school sessions, as an institution that keep the child away from work it is in fact imperative that schools function in full swing during peak agriculture season. Clearly, the one thing that the formal schools by any stretch of imagination cannot be accused of doing is supporting child labour. It is this that makes this institution invaluable for any program seeking to eliminate child labour. Above all the formal school is important because it is the only State institution that deals exclusively with children.
In the ultimate analysis when it comes to eliminating child labour neither the issue of irrelevance of education nor the nature of schools is of very great significance. The only aspect that is to be kept in mind is whether the child is being kept away from work or not.
Truly speaking the persons who are the best judges of the relevance of the education system are the first generation literates who have broken the mould and have overcome a number of barriers to achieve this status. Very rarely if at all does one come across a case of a literate, even an unemployed one, who would have preferred to remain illiterate. What the education system does not provide in terms of employment opportunity it more than makes up for in raising the self-esteem of the individual.