Seizing the Demographic Dividend: The Education Way
How should one respond to the increasing number of people on our planet? Specifically in our country! A question that has haunted us for decades after independence, creating complex societies with innumerable problems, a vicious cycle that has trapped our development for generations. We have constantly nagged about its perils. For a change let us try seeing the positive side of it. Governments today call it demographic dividend which tells us about how population is distributed over different age groups. Census report of 2011 gives a very exhaustive picture of population which is around 1.2 billion spread over 2.4% of earth’s area. However it also tells us another story, the story which has the potential to transform this country into a nation filled with hopes and desires. The report also tells us that 50% of our population is under the age 25 years. It won’t be wrong to call India as a young nation in comparison with the rest of the world. US will have around 25%, Japan 43% and India only around 15% of its people over the age of 65 years by 2040. Therefore it is imperative to discuss this issue comprehensively and systematically.
Human Development Index (HDI) report had given a grim picture of India as her world ranking stood at 135 out of 187 countries. Definitely not a figure to boast but may be to be embarrassed by it. So what are these chronic issues grappling us? Can we follow the trajectory of those countries who are already marching on the road to a better future? Perhaps not! For two reasons, first countries differ and not necessarily follow the same path of development and secondly global environment has changed rapidly since then thereby not offering long term solutions to the age old problems, such efforts require innovative answers. One of the deciding factors to turn this into a positive picture is to reform education to build healthy, well skilled and learned work force in our country.
Our beloved late President APJ Kalam once quoted that,
“One of the important characteristics of a student is to question. So let the student ask question.”
These words sum up the idea of learning as inquisitiveness is an essential part of education. How are we to do this? What approach a country can follow? Is it suitable, inclusive? Is it enough? Are we focusing too much on theory? Is it ideological? Does it promote scientific temper or is it stuck in the rot learning? What are we creating through this process called education? One might pose a hundred questions but primarily education has to be developed keeping in view the unique socio-cultural aspects of our society.
Education is the first step towards development. It is through this process that a citizen becomes vigilant, understands his rights, duties, becomes aware of his surrounding, paving the way for intellectual creativity thereby acquiring skills, contributing efficiently to her or his growth. Hence reorganization at all the three stages is required viz. primary, secondary and higher education.
Primary education forms the backbone of any country. What started with New Education Policy in 1986 culminated in 86th Constitutional Amendment Act of 2002 which made Right to compulsory and free education between the age group of six to fourteen a fundamental right. We had policies like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan whose primary goal has been universal enrollment. Mid-day meal school, a creative initiative perhaps encouraged children to attend schools and thereby assured their attendance but it has miserably failed to ensure learning output. In the process to ensure attendance we ignored quality of education, to build infrastructure we spent money but access and affordability remained a distant dream for many and we still face with child labour which has so persistently been tormenting us. However our schemes may have done enough good but evidently it is not adequate. What we need is a child centric and holistic attitude, a learning based approach. Reducing teacher’s absenteeism in schools, giving them appropriate and desirable training will certainly cut discrepancies as teachers play an extraordinary role. Though we have come a long way but our actions suggest that our efforts are not enough and hence massive investment is required in these spheres.
The second stage secondary education introduces a child to broader concepts; it further exposes her to issues in society wherein she understands her surroundings. But the grim reality of our public schools at secondary level has failed to build confidence; their ability to compete with private schools has sharply fallen over the years. Perhaps this is the reason where a parent’s mistrust both in urban as well as rural is shown when she is ready to pay the exorbitant fees of private institutes and not send her child to a government school. The falling student teacher ratio, poor infrastructure, rat race for fetching higher marks without necessary practical learning and keeping an exam oriented approach are a major hindrance to quality education in India. Some of the measures that could be adopted are by linking student’s performance with teacher, institutions which will enhance accountability. Harmonizing theory and practical studies by linking classrooms with outside world, sensitizing students on the plurality of our society, role of women and those of marginalized will inculcate values strengthening the social and secular fabric of our country at the very grass root level. Further can these goals be achieved if the drop out ratio of students is higher specifically that of girl child? Well obviously not! And hence it is important that we extend the right to free and compulsory education up to the secondary class. We are aware that the windows to higher education open only after we are certified with secondary school certificate. Therefore the exercise is futile if we are not able to safeguard higher education. The rhetoric of lack of funds has become redundant and such excuses only highlight the lack of will power and desirability to reform education in India.
The third stage being that of higher education reflects the maturity of a society and its people. It is through this exercise that a student analyses and further develops a perspective. There are largely on three fronts Indian Universities lack, first is it more of degree based, exam oriented than focusing on research learning culture. Second it is course specific thereby encouraging one stream be it engineering, law or management which somewhere also repels international students. Thirdly the teacher student interaction is formal and minimal. Faculty building is majorly lacking in this arena. Concentration of universities in few areas gives rise to urban rural disparities widening the gap between haves and haves not. The massive rise of private universities should be a cause of concern for the government as minimizing a role of state in constructive education only alarms efficiency and quality. Education cannot and should not be run by a profit making institutes where concerns like cost and affordability are bound to appear. Therefore we witness at the global level too that the best universities are those that are run by governments. Here the intention is not to undermine the autonomy of a public institute but highlight the significance of affordable and qualitative learning. No wonder our universities do not figure in top lists of ranking. We fairly manage to sneak in top hundred. Consequently what we are witnessing today is brain drain in our economy. Data reveals to us that Indian students in USA have drastically increased from around 31,000 in 1995 to one lack today. These drain signify the growing distrust and disgust of our young intelligent youth.
Lastly we cannot ignore the adults and women of our country who have been marginalized for various socio-economic reasons. Nearly 48 percent of India’s population consists of women and girls and if a country chooses to disregard them and neglect their participation in all spheres of life, will only result in its downfall. The ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ initiative is attractive but only time can tell its effectiveness. Their participation can be enhanced by securing their safety at public places, creating a comfortable environment, stringent and effective laws, a speedy grievance redressal forums and committees across institutions and workplaces guaranteeing their safety. Senisitizing general public on gender issues is the need of the hour and such task involves the broader involvement of civil society, organizations and central as well as state government. Women’s vocational and professional training should be dealt with equal perseverance. This will radically transform our society to a healthier development.
Adult literacy liberates a person from long borne ignorance and prevalent oppression thus building social capacities. It is said that one in ten adult in our society lacks vocational training. Such deprived strata falling in the age group of 15-35 years of age therefore cannot be left behind. Here the traditional definition of literacy might be too narrow and therefore needs a review which enables a person to train herself in technical, digital knowledge rather than merely read and write.
While education might not be an end in itself as it is a basic process that prepares a person to acquire skill which she/he uses to usher her/his growth, there has to necessarily be job creation to channelize this well-educated and healthy workforce for a sustainable living. Various studies across India has found that one in ten graduate lack vocational training amongst them many acquire through heritance others mange to learn on jobs. Only 2.2 percent of our human resources have received formal training in comparison with 75 percent in Germany and 80 percent in Italy. Even in BRICS economies India stands at the very end. The problem becomes more acute for rural areas and for women. While above mentioned measures would offer various opportunities however they might not be sufficient and therefore skill training has to be a separate and well focused initiative. Modi government has launched skill development and training of 40 crore people by 2022 but such initiatives have been taken before (that by the UPA government) and therefore its important that we understand the problem is not policies bit its implementation. New ministry for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana shows the commitment of the new government in tackling skill deficit but this curricula needs a definite design. The issue of complex laws, rules, impediments, multiple decision making bodies add to red tape and confusion.
It must be remembered that a poorly educated and trained human resource does no fetch poor of out of poverty and will definitely not put India’s growth on upward trajectory. The growing protest in the name of caste reservations, religious intolerance, the emergence of fringe groups are the result of such vaccum be it Dadri lynching or killing of rationalist all these incidences only reflect the failure of our education system in inculcating the age old values of secularism, sensitivity, scientific outlook. With each incident the ‘Shining India’ appears to be a distant and a hollow dream.