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.