Primary School Student Employment and Academic Achievement in Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru

Article excerpt


Across Latin America, large numbers of students engage in non-school work during their years of compulsory education, either in the home or in an outside job. Drawing upon newly available data, this article uses OLS and multi-level models to detect associations between different intensities and locations of employment and student achievement in mathematics and reading in the final year of primary school in four Andean countries. Even after controlling for the selection of working students into worse schools, employment is found to have a detrimental impact on achievement, especially when students work four or more hours per day.

Following the international ratifications of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child 20 years ago, and in the wake of the Education for AU (EFA) movement, universal access to basic, quality education became accepted both as a human right and a priority for public policy. Latin American countries - including the four discussed in this article - subsequently witnessed an increase in school enrolment among populations of working children, at least through the completion of primary schooling. However, this shift clearly does not mean that all of the children concomitantly abandoned the world of work while they were studying. Many children today combine schooling with part-time employment, even in the age ranges when such work is prohibited under ILO's Minimum Age Convention, 1973 (No. 138), and local labour laws. This pattern is particularly evident in Latin America. It is doubtful that a rights-based approach to universal education - as expressed by the EFA movement and the Convention on the Rights of the Child - can entirely eradicate child labour any more than such an approach can eliminate the dependence of many families on their children's earnings.

While complementing studies that emphasize the right of children to attend school, this investigation views school success through a different lens: the effects of after-school work on the academic achievement of children who are forced to combine their schooling with employment. Many such studies have previously focused on teens and adolescents during secondary schooling, a stage when many working children have already left school. In this article, however, I use newly available testing data on children in their last year of primary school, completion of which is compulsory for all. These data make it possible to assess the impact of work intensity (hours per day) and work location (at home or outside the home) on the academic achievement of working and non-working children. Who is most advantaged, and who is most disadvantaged, in terms of mathematics and reading-level proficiency? Those who work longer or shorter hours? Children whose work is performed at home, or those working outside their home? In which countries are working children at greatest risk? This article addresses these questions with a focus on the educational systems of four Andean countries where child labour is still a serious obstacle to universal secondary schooling.

In the four countries studied here, there could be immediate personal and public benefits from reducing child labour. Especially in Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, educators and professional teacher associations and unions could build powerful arguments against child labour based on the benefits to children of reducing their hours of work and increasing their educational attainment. In all of the countries for which evidence is available - including the four countries examined here - children's intensive employment is seen to diminish the likelihood of their success at school, thereby also hampering the productivity and development of their societies. In Latin America, concern with human rights long predates the current campaigns against child labour and for quality education, though it was that concern which provided the foundation for recent mobilizations to protect children (see, for example, Miró Quesada, 1986; Salazár, 1998; García Méndez, 1998). …