World Population Day 2017: “India has three such things which are not available to any country of the world…Those three things for which India can be proud of are democracy, demographic dividend and demand,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said at the crowded Madison Square in the US in September 2014. While the two of the three things — Democracy and Demand — are indeed India’s strengths, it would take lot of efforts to make demographic dividend a real contributor to India’s growth story.
PM Modi then said, “But it is our responsibility to recognise these three powers and present it before the world.” Months before becoming the Prime Minister of India, Modi had tweeted in May 2013, “Along with demographic dividend & the strength of our youth, we should equally harness longevity dividend, the wisdom of our elders.”
But is it really possible to reap the demographic dividend in India? It cannot be by merely recognising the dividend but by empowering the youth with knowledge and skills. At present, a majority of Indian youth are not only exposed to poor quality education but also to skill deficit and job scarcity. Consider these: In a survey early this year, employability assessment company Aspiring Minds claimed around 95% of engineers in India are unfit software development jobs. Last year, a report by UNESCO Institute for Statistics and Global Education Monitoring said around 47 million youth of secondary and higher secondary school-going age fail to complete their school education.
Along with demographic dividend & the strength of our youth, we should equally harness longevity dividend, the wisdom of our elders.
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) May 16, 2013
India is expected to become one of the most populous nations by 2025 and around 64% of the total population is expected to be in the age group of of 15–59 years by 2026, with only 13% of the total aged above 60 years. There are these five basic things needed to be done in mission mode to reap the democratic dividend:
1. Improve quality of teachers from schools to universities: Most of the Indian schools and colleges, both in private as well as public sectors, are not well qualified for the job. The government needs to start a national-level talent hunt or mission for roping in quality teachers.
2. Improve investment in education: It has been pointed out by several experts in past that India’s total investment in education is not adequate. This year’s budget provided around Rs 80,000 crore for education in India. For a country as vast as India, this much budgetary allocation is not adequate.
3. Remove gaps in access to education: A large number of children in India are out of school or drop out, as the UNESCO report pointed out last year. Economic survey 2015-16 said, “social infrastructure scenario in the country reflects gaps in access to education, health and housing amenities. Inclusive growth in India requires bridging gaps in educational outcomes and improved health attainments across the population.”
4. Compulsory skill development course for all youth in partnership with private sector: While Modi government is planning to open skill development centres across all districts of India, what is needed is to make some skill-related courses compulsory at the higher secondary-level itself. For this the government should also rope in the the private sector for their expertise in skills of the future.
5. Must provide digital infrastructure and good laboratory/research facilities in schools and colleges: Most of the Indian children are yet to be touched by the digital revolution. At school level, most of the science students rarely get access to labs. This situation needs to be changed.