What is Dignity of Labour? This fairly straightforward principle states that all people must be treated with equal respect. No job must be considered as superior to another, and any job a person does should not be discriminated against—whether it is rooted in physical work or mental labour. At the end of the day, no job must be looked down upon.
One of the more prevalent challenges in the modern world is to get children belonging to comfortable and affluent households to understand the nuances of what it means to treat all people equally, and that no one job is better than another--dignity of labour.
Teaching a child of a concept like dignity of labour is challenging, but necessary. Let’s examine how teachers can enhance dignity of labour in schools to promote a sense of community service amongst the students.
Children See, Children Do
The first step you need to take as an educator is to introspect. It is imperative that you lead by example before even bringing up a discussion on dignity of labour.
Examine how you interact and behave towards workers in the school before you instruct your students to behave. Make sure that you always practice what you preach. Children wouldn’t shy away from calling out hypocrisy, so ensure that you never find yourself in such a position.
Using Respectable Terms to Address Workers
An extension of the point above, school management in consultation with teaching staff should assign more decorous terms to address school workers to promote the concept. Instead of referring to junior clerks as peons or ‘boy’, caretakers as nannies, janitorial staff as aayas or cleaners, and school bus drivers and conductors as just “driver” or ”conductor”, give them respect by adding an ‘uncle’ or ‘aunty’ or “mister” “miss” or “missus” to their first names.
Teaching students the power of lease”, “sorry” and “thank you” when interacting with people, especially those with menial jobs will also go a long way.
Using respectable terms is the first step towards cultivating an attitude of respect from children, as well as making the support staff feel comfortable and not discriminated against, as they do their jobs.
Do not refrain from reprimanding students who disrespect these workers. Any and all unwarranted actions and statements towards school workers that are discriminatory must be nipped in the bud.
A Mindset Shift
It is extremely important to teach children that there is no shame in an honest living. People often associate physically intense jobs as menial and unimportant—and this calls for a mindset shift. Remind your students of Mahatma Gandhi’s quote, “He who does not labour and yet eats, eats stolen food.”
It is vital that teachers make students understand as a philosophy that all work is important. Teach them of the importance of honest work and switch the conversation away from the work being done towards the kind of work instead.
This could be a discussion that comes up as a result of informal conversation in the classroom or as part of a structured lesson plan. Teach your students not to shy away from respectfully speaking up if they see someone else (elders included) discriminating against someone, especially because of the job they do.
Also, teach students to be as self-sufficient as can be. Yes, cleaning may be the job of the school cleaning staff but it doesn’t hurt to make their work easier. Assign ‘Cleanliness Monitors’ to every class to make sure that there is no unnecessary litter or clutter. Students must learn that, regardless of gender or social status, there is no shame in doing your own chores.
Modify your Curriculum
While a complete curriculum change to include lessons on dignity of labour may not be possible from a policy level, it is always possible to tweak personal study plans to include related topics.
If you are a Civics teacher, discuss labour laws and before Labour Day, talk about the significance and importance of such a day. Urge the class to put up a play in front of the school during assembly to share their learnings.
As an Environmental Sciences teacher, when you discuss recycling, open the conversation to discuss the informal workers in the sector and how they make the work so much easier. Open a debate on how things can be made easier and better for them by teaching every household how to sort their garbage out and providing PPE kits with gowns, gloves and masks.
Being a History teacher, you can bring up the difficult discussion around the dark period of history surrounding American and English slave trade and closer home, the discrimination of people of lower caste. It is important to highlight how far we have come as a society from then and why it is imperative that we do not allow history to repeat itself.
In Art class, teach students to make creative ‘Thank You’ cards and distribute them to their loved ones as well as the ancillary staff in the school. When you do this, it is important to highlight to the students the importance of selfless acts without expecting anything in return.
Lesson Plan Modifications
COVID, the lockdown and learning from home have come with their own struggles. However, they also allow teachers to modify lesson plans to reflect current situations. The lockdown forced well-to-do households to complete their own chores without the support of house help.
This is a brilliant example to highlight the role of all workers who have been helping us from the side lines and making our lives easier. As an English teacher, urge your students to imagine a society where all these workers went on strike. This will allow the students to gauge the magnitude of the work done by them. Many schools have annual newsletters, magazines or a website that is regularly updated with staff interviews. Consider including interviews with the ancillary workers, in addition to the teaching staff. This allows the student to humanise them and imagine a world for these people beyond the school atmosphere that they regularly see them in.
Children have impressionable minds. It is important that they be inculcated with right values and mindsets from a young age. They are greatly influenced by the behaviour of people they live with at home or interact with at school. Right after parents/guardians and people they are surrounded by at home, teachers have a pivotal role in shaping the understanding of children and this responsibility is not one to be taken lightly.