Lessons from Cow Herding!
A young boy, say 14-15 years of age, goes out to herd the cows/sheep/goats (depending on the clime he lives in). He doesn’t go to school. Given this scenario, I know that one of my social work instructors working on universal education (‘Every Child in School and Learning’) would have made an aggressive case for him to be in school. I know this for certain, because I remember having a forceful, unyielding discussion on this very topic. Social workers usually take a dogmatic position on the issues they work with. ( one can work efficiently only if ones position is absolutely clear and you are unyielding on it and, as a corollary, that’s the only way you can rationalize your work… so much for circumstantial constraints on ideology.)
Lets take the case. According to my instructor (and a couple of others who joined the discussion to support her), a child at 14-15, herding cows, obviously lives in the rural countryside, is poor, has been ‘forced to work’, has been ‘deprived of an urban education’ and consequently belongs to the most deprived sections of our society. It falls on the more privileged (read educated) folk to remove him from this deprived nightmare. Therefore, it is not only necessary but imperative that he be admitted in a school to stop this vicious cycle of no-education- deprivation- poverty.
Now, there’s a problem with the assumptions. A child herding cows probably knows a lot about a) the climes of his region b) the geography of his region c) cows in general d) vegetation in his region among other things. (I cant even conceive of the whole range of things he is likely to have knowledge of). To assume he isn’t learning things is to negate his being. Being rural poor is not necessarily antithetical to knowledge and wisdom. Yes, his not having a mainstream education makes him less likely to get well paying jobs. But that is not the mark of knowledge. It just means HIS expertise isn’t valued enough.
Has the child been forced to work? May be, may be not. I remember, in school, we were given the duty of cleaning (dusting, sweeping and arranging tables and chairs) every morning. Two students would stay back from assembly to do it. Was that child labour? I don’t think so. I think it is healthy for kids to do a little bit of chores. Obviously, we don’t want our children overworked and that is an issue in some of our poor families. But why throw the baby with the bath water? Accompanying the cows on their graze and keeping an eye on them can make for some excellent exercise, both physical and mental!
This is not to say, that education is unnecessary. I myself have had a decent enough education and have enjoyed it to the best of my ability. But then to say that that’s the only way to remove yourself out of your poverty is to again lay the blame on other lifestyles and other ways of living. One of the major things that education taught me and that I had a tough time unlearning was that there was only one reality, the one written in our texts. That, obviously, isn’t true.