So I'm not the most efficient blogger and have one more thing (maybe) to say about this. We were talking with our friend who works with the UN. He asked, as everyone does here, where our boys are going to school. After a brief bit about homeschooling and that our children won't be stunted forever because of it, he talked about the problem here in Kyrgyzstan of more and more children not going to school. The Soviet Union created a very educated society here and certainly the people of post-Soviet Central Asia are far more educated, as a whole, than the people of the rest of Central Asia, or the Middle East. Education is highly valued here.
But there are increasing numbers of children who aren't going to school. Our friend mentioned the problem that's common everywhere of older teenagers not wanting to go to school, especially if they're struggling with it. And as is common in many places, even if a free public education is guaranteed to all children, it's not truly completely free. There are many things, from school uniforms to gifts for the teacher to reket that make it impossible for poor families to send their children to school.
He also mentioned that many children in rural areas don't attend school during the spring and fall to help their families plant and harvest Many rural families depend on the food they are able to grow and the income from it to survive the winter, and they expect their children to help. He said he suggested changing the school schedule in some areas but was told that was impossible because it would allow child labor. I guess that's another place where some of my American-ness is disappearing because I think changing the schedule might be a good idea.*
I'm obviously not a fan of exploiting children, but I'm not sure that children working with their families to harvest food for the winter is "child labor," at least in the negative sense we use it today. Taking your kid out of school to hire him out to your neighbors? Adopting children to work in the fields for you and not educating them? Forcing every able-bodied person in the country to pick cotton on state farms for weeks, even very small children? Not good, along with many other worse examples. But adjusting the school schedule in rural areas so that kids who would already be taken out of school in the spring and fall for financial reason can get a better education? I'm not seeing that as the most horrible option.
It's so often financial reasons that kids aren't sent to school. Improving a community's financial lot takes a long time and there will be children who won't be educated because their families can't send them to school at the appointed time and place for a host of reasons. Might it not be reasonable to change the schedule now to meet the needs of some children while working to make it possible for every child to go to school, whatever the schedule?
*I was interested to read a conversation a few weeks ago on a message board about whether a US family in financial straits ought to use a son's earnings from a paper route to support the entire family. Most people thought that was definitely not okay (and I can certainly understand why people would feel this way), but if my family were having a difficult time meeting basic needs, I wouldn't be okay with one child who was able to get a job spending money that our other children had no access to.