What Policy Guidance Does the Literature Provide on the Relationship Between School Quality and Child Labor?
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Swinnerton, Kenneth A.
[Excerpt] Satisfying a mandate assigned by the Trade and Development Act (TDA) of 2000, the United States Department of Labor reports annually on the worst forms of child labor in over 140 countries around the world. Since 2009, the reports have included recommendations for actions that countries might take to reduce child labor. The purpose of this paper is to use the existing research literature to assess whether and when a discussion of school quality and a policy emphasis on it might be part of the TDA reporting and its follow-on recommendations. This assessment finds little clear guidance from available empirical work. Although it is large, the literature generally does not suggest a consensus view on what defines (or measures) school quality. As a result, the literature lacks robust empirical regularities to suggest when and how to intervene on school quality so as to affect child labor and other variables that might be related to it (e.g., school enrollment). Theory is more conclusive, at least in suggesting when. It suggests that in circumstances when the root cause of child labor is not poverty, improving school quality can have a positive impact toward its elimination. But theory also suggests that when there is poverty, an emphasis on school quality may increase child labor. The precise line defining poverty needs itself to be established empirically, so cautious guidance from theory is to emphasize school quality as a tool for eliminating child labor only in situations that are – by judgment call - undoubtedly well-enough above or below the “poverty line,” and where poor school quality is an established fact. After reviewing the state of empirical and theoretical work, this paper concludes with a discussion on how two current trends in development policymaking and research – recipient involvement in the design of policy interventions and randomized control trial evaluation – might point the way to eventually being more precise about when and how an emphasis on school quality is important to eliminating child labor.
school quality; education; child labor