R 1991a Review of Myron Weiner the Child and the State in India

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  Myron Weiner The Child and the State in India: Child Labor and Education Policy in Comparative Perspective Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1991. xiv + 213 p. $45.00; $14.95 (pbk.). Many of today's developing countries, on gaining political independence, quickly moved to institute compulsory primary education, tracing out the route toward near-universal literacy taken late last century by the West and Japan. People who have a passing acquaintance with India— knowing that it produces many eminent scientists and an abundant supply of engineers and other  professionals, and aware of the statist, interventionist inclinations of its government—might assume that India had done the same. The intellectual elite would be the tip of a pyramid that rested on a universalistic commitment to education at the base. But that is not what happened. The 1981 census recorded that over half (52 percent) of India's 6-14 age group in that year were not attending school. Forty-five percent of the 15-19 age group were illiterate; while this figure has been falling (it was 62 percent in 1961) the pace of change has been slow. In the absolute numbers that Indian demography offers on a spectacular scale, the illiterate population at ages 10 and above grew by more than 40 million per decade in the 1960s and 1970s, the total in 1981 reaching some 280 million. Early figures from the 1991 census indicate the addition of another 20 million illiterates in the 1980s. Despite the apparently better  progress made in the past decade (including a faster rate of increase in female than male literacy), India, as Myron Weiner remarks in the present study, is the largest single producer of the world's illiterates. 1 Children in India who are not attending school are likely to be working, typically in cottage industries producing matches, cigarettes, carpets, and such like, or in shops and markets. There are laws (weak ones) against child labor but they are not enforced. Officials, employers, and  parents in effect collude to preserve the system: a system, Weiner argues, that is not the underside of early capitalism or industrialization—some equivalent of Lancashire's cotton mills or even Tokugawa Japan's filatures—but is a peasant-economy survival. It represents the  persistence of traditional pre-industrial conceptions of the child in relation to work and to  parents… The family, not the individual, is the unit of social action (p. 109). The immediate explanation offered by both Indians and others is that these educational and child labor outcomes reflect India's poverty. With economic growth and with the technological change 1 The book was completed before the 1991census. But even in 1981 the situation was not quite as grim as Weiner portrays it. He follows the Indian Registrar General's past practice of recording literacy rates and numbers of illiterates with no lower age-cutoff, with children in the 0-5 age group (appropriately) taken as wholly illiterate. The effect is to exaggerate the extent of illiteracy. The crude literacy rate for 1981 thus defined is 36 percent, whereas the rate for the population aged 5 years or older is 41 percent and for those aged 10 years or older 42 percent. (Adult literacy, conventionally defined as referring to the population 15+, was 40 percent.) In a similar vein, the figure Weiner cites of 437 million illiterates in India in 1981 (p. 4) includes some 157 million children below 10 years of age. The 1991 census, in a start toward dealing with this statistical problem, excludes the population below age 7 from literacy estimates. Provisional results give a 1991 literacy rate for the population 7+ of 52 percent. (The age-specific data needed to  produce estimates with higher age-cutoffs are not yet   available from this census.) Over 1981-91, the total  population aged 7+ rose by 140 million; the number of illiterates 7+, by 22 million—6 million males, 16 million females. (Census of India 1991:  Provisional Population Totals. Series 1, India. Paper I of 1991.)  that accompanies it, the demand for skilled labor will blossom and induce a comparable demand  by parents for schooling. The supply of child labor will dry up. Legislation on compulsory education, as on much else, comes only as the behavioral change it refers to has virtually been achieved. Myron Weiner, in this strongly argued and persuasive book, disputes that sequence and the implied explanation of educational development that lies behind it. Poorer countries than India (many African countries, for instance) have progressed much further toward universal primary education. India's educational expenditure as a proportion of gross national product is not exceptionally low: UNDP's 1990  Human Development Report  puts it at 3.4 percent in 1986— compared to China's at 2.7 percent, Indonesia's at 3.5 percent, and the average for all developing countries of 3.9 percent—but a smaller share of it goes to the primary level. It is not the capacity to do more that is lacking, in Weiner's view, but the will. He locates the principal explanation for  poor performance in primary education in the belief systems of the state bureaucracy— a set of  beliefs that are widely shared by educators, social activists, trade unionists, academic researchers, and, more broadly, by members of the Indian middle class (p. 5). An astonishing constellation of forces is seemingly arrayed against compulsory education, its endorsement by India's Constitution notwithstanding. On the economic side, these include the small businessmen who employ child workers, Gandhian supporters of cottage industry, upper-caste groups fearing competition for jobs and the disappearance of a menial class, and often  parents themselves, whether in exigent need or believing in their right to their children's labor. On the education side, opponents of compulsion include teachers (who benefit from large student enrollment but low attendance), state education department officials (for reasons Weiner does not make wholly clear), and Illich-style enthusiasts for deschooling. Indeed, Weiner claims to find no significant forces  for compulsory education. (South India, and particularly Kerala, offer exceptions: there he sees proselytizing Christian missions as pushing for wider education, and some degree of defensive following suit by Hindu and Muslim authorities. In Kerala, a left-wing government has continued the process, achieving close to full adult literacy. According to the 1991 census, 91 percent of Kerala's population 7 years and older are literate.) Characteristic views held by members of these various groups are displayed in a fascinating series of dialogues on child labor and education, excerpts of interviews conducted by the author. Of great interest in the book, though necessarily highly abbreviated, are the case studies of historical (England, 2 Germany, Austria, the United States, Japan) and contemporary (China, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, South Korea) experiences of state educational policies and achievements. Weiner emphasizes the diverse patterns of political support and value systems that elsewhere led to compulsory primary education and effective child labor laws (usually in that order). The comparative materials are usefully distilled into a dozen or so propositions that would collectively constitute a policy for removing children from the labor force and placing them in schools (p. 194). Given his lengthy interest-group analysis and identification of the fairly blatant class and caste interests at work, it is slightly disingenuous for Weiner to say that his explanation of the Indian case is rooted in beliefs. Belief systems are not free-standing cultural elements but tend to go with tangible interests, or at least not to conflict drastically with them. Social mobility in India he sees as a matter of the relative status of whole groups, particularly caste groups, rather than being 2 Aminor point for the record: On page 121, Malthus (and some other distinguished interlopers) oddly find themselves on a list of Scots intellectuals.   defined by individual opportunity, and mass education threatens the established intergroup relativities. Educators and officials do not regard education as an equalizer, as an instrument for developing shared attitudes and social characteristics, but rather as a way of differentiating one class from another… Those who are educated have power over those who are not (p. 190). Mass schooling is subversive of the social order. Schooling is also held to have ramifications for individual autonomy and efficacy and their spinoffs in political and demographic behavior, and, in the aggregate, for economic development. Of particular interest for  PDR readers may be the consequences for fertility. This subject was treated by John Caldwell in this journal ten years ago ( Mass education as a determinant of the timing of fertility decline,  PDR 6,no.2). Caldwell argued that education was a medium for the supplanting of a family-centered economy and morality by more-inclusive social and cultural systems, especially those organized or manipulated by the state. As schooling approached full coverage of the population, the defensive power of patriarchal tradition was broken and child-adult relations (and gender relations) were transformed. The family economy was changed from asituation in which high fertility is worthwhile to one in which it is disastrous ( Mass education, p. 228), precipitating a fall in birth rates. (Somewhat analogous consequences for mortality are often claimed, although tied more to the shift in gender relations.) Caldwell returned to the topic, with P. H. Reddy and Pat Caldwell, five years later ( Educational transition in rural South India,  PDR  11,   no.1), investigating the reasons why parents do or do not send their children to school in rural Karnataka and why those who do, very often, see them drop out soon after. This covers part of Weiner's agenda, but omits much of his political analysis. Bottom-up studies, valuable as they are, have limited purchase on a phenomenon that has a major top-down component. The Caldwell-Reddy-Caldwell view of educational development in South India, subtle and thoroughly grounded in field observation, is parent demand-driven, a version of the modernization paradigm that Weiner rejects. (For a different critique of mainstream education–fertility theorizing see Harvey J. Graff, Literacy, education, and fertility,  past and present: A critical review,  PDR 5,no.1.)Myron Weiner is a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a  particular interest in Indian political demography. He has written in this journal on anti-immigrant sentiment and action in Assam and on Indians in the Persian Gulf. The present study is a fine piece of investigative social science and policy analysis, taking apart a seemingly moribund policy thicket where India has contented itself with what has been disparagingly termed a Hindu rate of growth. Yet, as with other dimensions of change in India, national averages in measures of education and child welfare cover increasing interstate disparities. India is taking off in bits and pieces, in typically disorderly fashion, no less in social than in economic development. The situation is confirmed for literacy by the 1991 census: a second tier of states—Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Gujarat, and Himachal Pradesh—is moving up on Kerala; the predictable laggards, far behind, are the swathe of northern states from Rajasthan to Bihar. Arguments and analysis such as Weiner's are likely to be widely debated and influential in the former group; whether they can do anything to jolt the laggards is doubtful. Geoffrey McNicoll  Research School of Social Sciences  Australian National University  
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