India won’t prosper till education and employability improve, writes RN Bhaskar

Lawmakers appear to be more obsessed with issues that divide people. Their focus on education, if at all, is only to use schools and colleges to incite people to think along communal lines or agitate over the content in textbooks -- though ostensibly it is often disguised as an attempt to promote civil laws or quality education.

RN BhaskarUpdated: Thursday, May 12, 2022, 09:32 AM IST
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When the state ignores education – especially school education which is a constitutional obligation – you cannot expect the nation to be a leader in any business activity. | Photo: Pixabay

Watch the presentations of some of the leading personalities in India, and you are persuaded to believe that India’s moment has arrived, that it is now unstoppable. Great words, yes. Laudatory vision, true. But please look through the effervescence, or let the bubbles pop, and the residue tells you that reality is a lot grimmer.

The chart points to the fact that India has more internet users, and spends more hours on digital media than most countries in the world.

The chart points to the fact that India has more internet users, and spends more hours on digital media than most countries in the world. | Chart by TV Mohandas Pai

The chart by TV Mohandas Pai, in a presentation made in 2001 on India as a startup nation points to the fact that India has more internet users, and spends more hours on digital media than most countries in the world. It suggests, therefore, that the country is a powerhouse for digital innovation. Maybe, that is true, especially if one looks at the number of unicorns that this country has witnessed in just 2022.

But anecdotal compilations suggest that much of the internet was on account of access to WhatsApp, Facebook, YouTube, and other social media. Little was by way of serious referencing. That may also be true the world over. But literacy levels are higher in many parts of the world. Literacy levels are plummeting in India. Government expenditure is shrinking, especially in the state which is supposed to be home to digital technology – Karnataka, or more specifically Bengaluru. More charts can be found in the web version of this article.

Lawmakers appear to be more obsessed with issues that divide people. Their focus on education, if at all, is only to use schools and colleges to incite people to think along communal lines or agitate over the content in textbooks -- though ostensibly it is often disguised as an attempt to promote civil laws or quality education.

Just look at the numbers of the top five states where per capita GDP levels have actually fallen. It is not surprising to find Karnataka among them.

What is worse is that surveys of education outcomes by bodies like UNICEF, UNESCO, and the World Bank show how outcomes have begun falling in schools. One of the methods to look at educational outcomes was to see if students from higher grades could read and comprehend books meant for grade 2 students.

When it came to grade 3 students, while 19% could read the books meant for grade 2 students in 2018, this outcome fell to just 10% in 2020. When this same yardstick was applied to grade 5 students, the outcome stood at 46% in 2018 but fell to 34% in 2020. When the same norms were applied to grade 7 students, the outcomes fell, once again from 61% to 57%. Focus on education at school levels is slipping, alarmingly.

The government’s poor response to the pandemic resulted in swelling numbers of poor people by 75 million according to a Pew Research finding. India’s middle class also shrank.

This, in turn, has led many parents to pull out their children from private schools where educational standards and basic infrastructure are relatively better managed, and instead admit them to government-owned schools, because the latter were more affordable.

The malaise is exacerbated by the reduction in the central government’s allocations for education. When the state ignores education – especially school education which is a constitutional obligation – you cannot expect the nation to be a leader in any business activity.

Poor educational standards inevitably lead to unemployability, which is worse than unemployment. Rotten education makes people unemployable, even if there are jobs that need to be filled up by candidates who meet the requirements. This was confirmed by the government in its submissions before the Lok Sabha in March 2018.

Yes, India has the potential. Even the current geopolitical alignments favour India. But unless the government gets all people to work together, you cannot make progress. Hate campaigns must stop. One reason why Bangladesh has been growing faster than India is that the government publicly disapproves of any communal strife or hate campaigns that divide people. Penalties are harsh and meted out swiftly. That is why there are fewer riots in Bangladesh. More focus is paid to education and employability.

Can India do this? Yes, if there is political will and sagacious planning. India needs to grow. The current inflationary pressures, and the surging numbers of the poor demand a better future for India’s children.

Think jobs, employability, and education (along with health). You could actually witness a resurgent India in a few years.

(The author is consulting editor with FPJ)

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