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Work and Education

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Work and Education: Work, understood simply, is an activity directed toward making or doing something. It also means making one’s work...

Work and Education:

Work, understood simply, is an activity directed toward making or doing something. It also means making one’s work or capabilities, or both, available for someone else’s purposes for monetary or other forms of return. A number of these activities are related to producing food, articles of daily use, looking after the physical and mental well-being of people, and other activities related to the administration and organisation of society. In any society, in addition to these, two basic dimensions (producing goods and establishing smooth functioning), various other activities also contribute to human well-being, and in that sense are considered forms of work. 

Understood in this sense, work implies a commitment to other members of the society and/or community as one is contributing one’s work and capabilities for fulfilling their needs. Second, it implies that one’s contribution made through work will be submitted to public standards of performance and hence will be valued and judged by others. Third, work implies contributing to the functioning of social life as it either produces something that makes life possible or helps in the functioning of society in general. Finally, work enriches human life as it opens up new dimensions of appreciation and enjoyment. 

However, we must not forget that children are often socialised into discriminatory practices and values and that adults socialise children within the dominant socio-cultural paradigm. It is important to recognise that both adults and children are socialised in the same way. We also have to remember that work as forced labour is perhaps the most demeaning of all coercions. There have to be adequate measures in place to ensure that introduction of work as an integral part of the curriculum should never lead to a situation where work is thrust on unwilling children, or that the ‘work’ itself is a hindrance to the child’s education and normal growth and development. Routine and repetitive activity carried on for the sake of production or work that is associated with the division of labour based on caste and gender should be strictly avoided. Also, a teacher making children work without him/herself participating in the work is unlikely to achieve the objectives of integrating work with the curriculum. The inclusion of work within the school must also never be used as the justification for the exploitation of children. 

Work is also an arena for learning for children, whether in the home, the school, the society or the workplace. Children begin to absorb the concept of work as early as the age of two years. Children imitate their elders and like pretending to do work. For example, it is not unusual to see very young children pretending to ‘sweep’ the floor, or ‘hold meetings’, or ‘build houses’, or ‘cook’. Work as an educational tool is used by many pedagogies. For example, the Montessori system integrates work concepts and skills from the very beginning. Cutting vegetables, cleaning the classroom, gardening and washing clothes are all a part of the learning cycle. Beneficial work that is in keeping with the child’s age and ability, and which contributes to the child’s normal growth and development, when introduced into children’s lives can serve to enable children to learn values, basic scientific concepts, skills and creative expression. Children gain an identity through work, and feel useful and productive as work adds meaning and brings with it membership to society and enables children to construct knowledge. 

Through work one learns to find one’s place in society. It is an educational activity with an inherent potential for inclusion. Therefore, an experience of involvement in productive work in an educational setting should make one appreciate the worth of social life and what is valued and appreciated in society. Since work defines some achievable targets and creates a web of interdependence, it entails making efforts in a disciplined manner, thus creating possibilities for greater self-control, focusing mental energies and keeping emotions under check. The value of work, particularly skills that involve good finish, are undervalued as a means of achieving excellence and learning self-discipline. The discipline exercised by the material (say, clay or wood) is more effective and qualitatively different from the discipline exercised by one human being over another. Work involves interaction with materials or other people (mostly both), thus creating a deeper comprehension and increased practical knowledge of natural substances and social relationships. All this is in addition to the usual physical skills involved in learning a trade that may be turned into a means of earning a livelihood. The aspects of work mentioned here draw attention to the meaning-making and knowledge-construction dimension of work. This is the pedagogic function that work can play in the curriculum.

 Benefits of this nature can be drawn from work only if it becomes an integral part of the school curriculum. Pursued in an academic setting, work carries the remarkable potential of generating new forms of creativity and understanding while opening up the possibility of transforming the nature of work itself. This has become even more essential as in a majority of families in India contributing to household work and family trade is a way of living, but this pattern is changing due to the pressure of school on children’s time and the rampant competition in memorisation of information. Academic activity tends to be imprisoned within disciplinary boundaries. When academic learning and work are simultaneously collocated, there is a chance of greater creativity in academic pursuits as also in the methods and tools of doing work. A synergetic enhancement can take over. That is how efficient hand pumps were designed. High-flying polythene balloons used to burst while going through the extremely cold stratosphere untill a scientifically minded worker suggested that putting a little carbon powder in the fabric would help to keep it warm by absorbing sunlight. Indeed, all great inventors were tinkerers who knew a little science. Edison, Ford and Faraday belonged to this category, so also those who invented the first pair of spectacles or the telescope. There is little doubt that much of the traditional knowledge of our potters, craftsmen, weavers, farmers and medical men has come through such pursuits – where these individuals were simultaneously engaged in physical work and academic thinking. We need to infuse such a culture of innovation, curiosity and practical experience in our education system. 

However, schools at present are not geared for work as a part of the curriculum in terms of infrastructure or learning material. Work is necessarily an interdisciplinary activity. Therefore, integrating work into the school curriculum would require a substantial amount of pedagogical understanding of how it would be integrated with learning and the mechanisms for assessment and evaluation. 

Institutionalising work in the school curriculum will require creative and bold thinking that breaks out of its stereotyped location in periods of Socially Useful and Productive Work (SUPW), something about which all children and teachers are justifiably sceptical. We need to examine how the rich work knowledge base and skills of marginalised children can be turned into a source of their own dignity as well as a source of learning for other children. This is especially important in the context of the growing alienation of the middle-upper-class children from their cultural roots and the central role played by the education system in aggravating and accelerating this process. There is immense potential for utilising the knowledge base of the vast productive sections of society as a powerful means for transforming the education system. Work seen as a form of ‘valid’ knowledge allows one to re-examine the invisibility of the contributions of women and non-dominant groups to what is regarded as valuable in society. Productive work would need to find a place at the centre of the curriculum in order to act as a powerful corrective to the ‘bookish’, information-oriented and generally unchallenging character of school education and, in turn, help relate the latter to the life needs of the child. Pedagogical experience in using work would become an effective and critical developmental tool at different stages of childhood and adolescence. Thus, ‘work-centred education’ is different from vocational education. 

The school curriculum from the pre-primary to the senior secondary stages should be reconstructed for realising the pedagogic potential of work as a pedagogic medium in knowledge acquisition, developing values and multiple-skill formation. As the child matures, there is a need for the curriculum to recognise the child’s need to be prepared for the world of work, and a work-centred pedagogy can be pursued with increasing complexity while always being enriched with the required flexibility and contextuality. A set of work-related generic competencies (basic, interpersonal and systemic) could be pursued at all stages of education. This includes critical thinking, transfer of learning, creativity, communication skills, aesthetics, work motivation, work ethic of collaborative functioning, and entrepreneurship-cum-social accountability. For this evaluation, parameters would also need to be redesigned. Without an effective and universal programme of work-centred education, it is unlikely that UEE (and later Universal Secondary Education too) would ever succeed.
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CLEAR CTET: Work and Education
Work and Education
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