The “Gateway School”, a way of eliminating child labour

Education is a human right and a key factor in the reduction of poverty and child labour. Yet, over 70 million primary-age children are not enrolled in school and most of them are part of the 218 million children worldwide involved in child labour. The international community has committed itself, within the Millenium Development Goals, to ensure that by 2015 all children, boys and girls, complete a course of primary education. Special care has to be taken of children who are out of the school system, like Salimata, of Côte d’Ivoire…

Article | 11 June 2008

COTE D’IVOIRE (ILO Online) – Salimata is ten years old. Her father has passed away, her mother is “out of town” and she lives with her guardians – in Bonoua, a locality about 60km away from Abidjan. Until last year, she was not enrolled in school and worked to help her guardian family out. Every morning, Salimata would leave home to go all over town to sell the doughnuts prepared by her guardian. On her way she often stopped in front of the primary school to watch other children her own age sitting in school.

The Director of the school had noticed her but she was older than the age limit set to be able to join the Cours Préparatoire (CP1). Looking for a way to give Salimata an opportunity, he came across the IPEC-LUTRENA project which allows children out of school to make up for lost time through basic education and before being integrated in a primary class. This “Gateway Schools” programme was carried out by the International Labour Organization (ILO) International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) through its regional programme “Combat against child trafficking for the exploitation of their work in West and Central Africa” and in collaboration with the autonomous service of fight against illiteracy (SAA), a public governmental agency of Côte d’Ivoire.

The principle underpinning this programme is to guarantee a two level programme each of at most 9 months in the localities of Bonoua, Dabou, Grand Bassam and the District of Abidjan. To that end school infrastructures were used during days off (Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday) to give an education to the most vulnerable children or to those who were victims of trafficking. The children’s education was given by volunteers under the supervision of literacy counsellors working for the State. At the end of the training course, the pupils who had finished the course successfully were then able to enrol in a primary elementary class (CE).

Thus, thanks to the IPEC-LUTRENA project, Salimata was able to join a “gateway class”. Of course, her guardians had to be made aware of the importance of education for Salimata. “Child labour is closely related to poverty. A poor family does not necessarily have the means to pay school fees and can desperately need the child’s contribution to the family income” says Honore Boua Bi Semien, national coordinator of the LUTRENA project.

It is estimated that worldwide, only 46 per cent of boys and 43 per cent of girls enrol in secondary school. In sub-Saharan Africa 1 out of 5 children reach secondary school.

“Even if it is essential to improve access to free education in order to increase participation, the education provided should be of a quality good enough to keep the children in school and guarantee positive training results. Far too often the classes are overcrowded with insufficient resources and teachers with insufficient qualifications. Parents who believe education is not worthwhile are less keen to send their children to school, which leaves the children no other choice than entering the labour market at a premature age” adds M. Boua Bi Semien.

Salimata’s guardians did not regret their decision. A school assistant noticed that she was highly motivated and learnt quickly. At the end of the training period, which lasted 8 months, Salimata already knew how to read and write. With the backing of the literacy counsellors of the SAA and the teaching volunteers and with the agreement of the local education authorities (specially the inspector for primary education), Salimata could enrol in her local school at the CP2 level. At the end of the 2006-2007 school year she was admitted in a higher class (CE1) with an average mark of 9.96 out of 10. Her new teacher, Mrs.K.B. claims that little Salimata is her best pupil. Furthermore, she has an excellent behaviour in class.

Today with the encouragement of her guardians, Salimata is a happy child who looks at life full of hope. “I am very happy to go to school. And I thank all the people who helped me” she says. Does she have an idea of what she would like to do after school? “I would like to become a policeman” answers Salimata.

“Reducing the obstacles to school access and improving the quality of education to allow families to invest in their children’s human capital is an essential part of the strategy to combat child labour as it will allow these children, once adults, to have decent work. Investing in education is an important economic decision” says M. Boua Bi Semien.

A survey carried out by the ILO has shown that the elimination of child labour and its replacement by universal education gives great economic and social benefits. It is estimated that worlwide the benefits will be six times greater than its cost and every extra year of schooling, until the age of 14, yields an extra 11 per cent income per year.

Journalists who would like to find out more about this story and others for the World day Against Child Labour are to contact the International Programme on the Elimination of Child Labour (IPEC) at Tel.: +4122/799-8181 or by email: ipec@ilo.org.