Nicaragua: the fight against child labour strengthens a teachers’ union

published 12 March 2018 updated 14 March 2018

By developing "child labour free zones", CGTEN-ANDEN has aroused the enthusiasm of teachers and increased its influence in social dialogue.

In Nicaragua, the Confederación General de Trabajadores de la Educación de Nicaragua(CGTEN-ANDEN) has, since 2015, been involved in the development of a "child labour free zone" in La Dalia (Matagalpa Department), with the support of AOb and the Fair Childhood Foundation of GEW. The aim is to have all the children of this region, famous for its coffee plantations, enrolled at school. Eighty-three teachers from 31 schools have received training on themes such as communication techniques with parents, leadership skills, and children’s rights. The union has also provided some schools with a few teaching materials (games, story books, tape recorders) and materials for display in classrooms.

"This project helps teachers to feel more at ease when they speak with parents about the importance of education", says Bernarda López, National Coordinator for the project at CGTEN-ANDEN. "We have developed radio commercials against child labour which are widely broadcast on local radio stations. We have also put up notice boards decrying child labour in schools and distributed hats and bags with messages promoting education to teachers."

The teachers who undertook the initial CGTEN-ANDEN training asked the union for new training in the cultural field, such as courses in traditional dance and the making of hand-crafted goods. Bernarda López: "This request somewhat surprised us, but our members have explained to us that this type of training would help to improve the attractiveness of schools. After this new training, the teachers involved in the project integrated cultural aspects into their teaching methods, for example they use DIY to teach mathematics in a practical way. Pupils enjoy school more, their results improve, their motivation increases, which in turn increases the enthusiasm of the parents and teachers."

Marling Cardenal Averruz, a teacher at Slilmalila primary school explains that "the training helped me develop new arguments to convince parents to send their children to school. The material received enabled me to decorate the classroom with the pupils. I have improved my teaching thanks to the games we learned to use during training. I have also developed more contacts with the leaders of the community surrounding the school. Moreover, no pupil has left my school since the start of this project in 2016, and we have managed to bring nine children who had left back into school."Teachers sometimes must spend a long time negotiating with parents. "Some children must walk a long way to go to school. We must negotiate compromises with their parents: they accept to let them come back to school, but only for 3 days out of 5. It is a start… When the child returns to the school and likes it, the child itself asks to come every day of the week", notes Edgla Mona Cardenas Centeno, a teacher at Slimlalila primary school.

Support from the coffee plantations

CGTEN-ANDEN representatives have contacted the owners of the coffee plantations, the principal employers in La Dalia region. They all agreed to support the message "No to child labour" conveyed by the union, which also corresponds to the requirements of the international buyers of Nicaraguan coffee. "Some plantations do not limit themselves to prohibiting child labour, they also encourage their employees to enrol all their children at a school. That means that we can easily obtain the support of the managers of these companies, if we discover that the child of a worker is not enrolled at school, to convince parents to send their child to school", explains Armengol Salgado, the CGTEN-ANDEN Project Coordinator in La Dalia.

During the summer holidays, CGTEN-ANDEN organizes summer schools in La Dalia for children who are not enrolled in school or at risk of dropping out. "A lot of parents take their children to work during the holidays, sometimes to coffee plantations in other regions. These children do not always return at the start of the school year and a “dropping-out” process begins", explains Bernarda López. "Our members have organised themselves: each teacher taught a day of summer school. On that day the children are kept busy with games, dancing, story-telling, a fun introduction to mathematics, etc."This experience proved to be very positive. In La Dalia, 14 children (including 9 girls) who had never been to school enrolled at the school after participating in these summer activities in 2017, and all children at risk of dropping out continued their schooling. Teachers have seen an improvement to pupils’ school results when they take part in these summer schools, particularly because they have met other teachers during the holidays.

The creation of a child labour free zone project has aroused a genuine enthusiasm for education in La Dalia. "If a child tells us that he/she cannot come to the school because of lack of materials, we organize activities which enable the other pupils to show their solidarity by obtaining the necessary materials for the disadvantaged child", reflects Nelson Castillo, head teacher of Esparanza 2 school. "We no longer accept that any child be unable to enrol at a school. As teachers, we were obviously already aware of the importance of education prior to the implementation of this project, but the activities developed with the support of ANDEN have increased tenfold our motivation as well as that of communities surrounding our schools. Our involvement in this project is also improving our prestige as teachers. During monthly meetings with parents, we discuss with them new themes, such as non-violence, self-esteem, learning sound values, etc."

"The union has become the meeting point"

The enthusiasm for this project has resulted in a 28% increase in CGTEN-ANDEN membership in the area (from 350 to 450 members). The head teachers from all the schools involved with the project are members of the union. Head teacher Nelson Castillo explains that the strengthening of the union has a positive impact on social dialogue. "Before the project, dialogue between head teachers and teachers existed, but head teachers were previously considered to be representatives of the Ministry, and our discussions with union representatives could be perceived as the discussions between two opposing factions. At present, the head teachers are members of CGTEN-ANDEN, we meet with the union leaders and teachers from the region at many meetings, as well as at activities related to the anti-child labour project. The union has become a meeting point, we have seen that it has not been limited to defending its members but that it is fighting for the good of the entire community."

The lessons from this project help CGTEN-ANDEN in campaigns on a wider scale against child labour. The education authorities in La Dalia are already committed to extend certain innovations of the project to the 173 schools in the municipality: visits of teachers to the homes of pupils who are at risk of dropping out of school or have already done so, for example. "The authorities have understood that this type of project is complementary to their own efforts to stop child labour and improve the quality of education, and they encourage us to continue in collaboration with the Ministry of Education", explains Jose Antonio Zepeda, CGTEN-ANDEN General Secretary. "We are also improving our relationship with the Government, which is positive for the social dialogue we are developing". The union has obtained the right to meet once a year with all those planning to be teachers in order to raise awareness of their role in the fight against child labour, using lessons learned from projects such as the one in La Dalia.

The schools covered by the project have recorded a significant reduction in drop-out rates and the return to school of former child labourers. Some schools have however experienced a decline in the number of pupils enrolled in 2017 due to the migration of families to the interior of Nicaragua. In 2018, the head teachers of the 31 schools involved with the project committed to following up former pupils who went with their parents in other regions, in order to check whether they were still at school.

With renewed support from AOb and the Fair Childhood Foundation of GEW, CGTEN-ANDEN is currently developing new child labour free areas, in the communities of Malpaisillo and El Jicaral (Léon region), where many children are exploited at gold-mining sites. "At trade union meetings at the national level, we present the La Dalia project to show that child labour can be eradicated by better communications and negotiations with parents and by making school attractive for all children", stresses Bernarda López. In the long term, the union could reproduce these strategies in many regions in Nicaragua. They require an investment in time and money, particularly in the training of teachers in the areas concerned.