Referral of School Age Children for Part-time Jobs

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The proposed initiative of giving part-time jobs to ‘school-aged’ children in Sri Lanka is a matter of debate among many parties these days. There are many who are supportive as well as having opposing ideologies about it. However, in my analysis it’s a
black-and-white decision.

To build the future of the country, it is important to create a perfect development in the children’s generation in all aspects; physical, mental, educational, moral, and spiritual, and to build a group of youth with a sense of growth, personality developmentand open mindedness to the world. For that, children should first get proper education, especially the formal education. The purpose of education is not to accustom children to an eight-hour work shift in a corporate sectorin the future. Also, education is not aimed at livelihood, and it doesn’t stop at a particular job. However, after acquiring education, we all enter an extremely complex and competitive commercial world. Hence, from the practical point of view, we all should turn the learned into a means of earning. It happens either by being an employee, an entrepreneur or self-employed. Therefore, modern education must relate to the requirements of the modern world of work.

According to the practices in our country so far, it is mandatory for the students who are pursuing higher education in universities and those who are studying various professional courses to be employed as trainees during the period of their education. But they are still too late to recognise the requirements of the modern world of work and develop certain employable skills needed to adapt to it. Therefore, it is important to give the opportunity to gain experience in the corporate atmosphere by being employed on a part-time basis, in a way that does not interfere with their education, even for children of school-going age above 16 years.

The initiative of giving industry exposure to the children of school -going age is implemented in many countries with advanced education systems. In the ‘industry learner’children get the first-hand experience about what he/she has learned in the school, tries out certain subject matters in industry / corporate practices, and gathers practical examples to accept or question what has been learned. In many countries, including the USA, Japan, Finland, Norway, Switzerland, and Canada, high school students have a separate period of several months allocated in the curricular for employment to gain industry exposure. The most important fact is, such an initiative is well-regulated and connected to the curricular and student evaluation, which is well-recognised for creating entrepreneurial culture in such countries.

It will also help the next generation to understand the value and importance of every job and to exclude professional extremism and bring about the change of attitude required for professional harmony. Some practical situations that are not covered by the school syllabus, especially technology, establishing new human relationships and being able to bring out the hidden potential in children can also be seen from the ‘white’ side of that proposed initiative.

However, if this proposed initiative is not based on a long-term analytical plan andcomes out as another popular political agendathe ‘black’ side of it will be extremely serious. Therefore, to achieve the desired outcomes from this proposed initiative, it must be implemented with a sound plan, with proper understanding of the outcomes, and especially with strong regulations.

The year 2021 was declared as the International Year for the Elimination of Child Labour. Accordingly, Sri Lanka is also responsible to eliminate child labour and hazardous youth labour. The list of 51 hazardous occupations introduced by Extraordinary Gazette No. 1667/41 dated August 20, 2010, was expanded to 71 hazardous occupations by Extraordinary Gazette No. 2254/35 dated November 18, 2021. Also, hazardous employment order No. 01 of 2021 was imposed by the relevant gazette. Accordingly, the employment of anyone under the age of 18 in such occupations is completely prohibited. To send ‘school-age’ children for part-time jobs under such conditions, major amendments are essential in the industrial law and other related laws and regulations currently in effect in the country. If not, the owners of private sector institutions will be allowed to exploit and misuse child labour.

The age group up to 18, belongs to childhood. Psychologically, children of that age are in a developing state. Therefore, they lack the ability to make sound decisions. When they start getting money during their education, if the purpose of progressing through education changes and those children start giving priority to earning money, huge problems can beascendedin the future. At present, due to various reasons, many children are seen dropping out of school. In view of the current economic crisis in the country, there is a risk that more students will stop schooling with the main objective of earning money,if they are given the opportunity to engage in part-time jobs.

Therefore, the relevant proposal should be implemented with a strong legal and institutional background. To gain the desired ‘white’ outcomes it should be implemented according to an action plan that clearly states the responsibilities of the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Labour and the Department of Labour, the school principal, teachers, parents as well as with the legal and ethical guidelines for the industries.

We experience various types of social stratification in Sri Lanka based on occupation. Even the past caste system was based on occupation. Encouraging children to get work experience in a place where there are such stratification and discrimination can create negative attitudes and frustrationfor them. Therefore, it should be decided very carefully, which industries and institutions the children are sent to. Moreover, if politicians are trying to strengthen their future
voters-base through the children who are given part-time job opportunities today, this initiative will only be one more disaster for our future generation.

Tharindu Dananjaya Weerasinghe

[Senior Lecturer, Department of Human Resource Management, University of Kelaniya]

By Tharindu Dananjaya Weerasinghe