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Increase Access, Improve Quality
Education and healthcare are the foundation for a nation’s prosperity
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Indian economy’s reaching USD 5 trillion will be a landmark, but also part of a continuum. Governments have to create some iconic targets to create aspirations, like the call for Poorna Swaraj by Mahatma Gandhi. I think that education is important for the sustained economic growth of any country. Amartya Sen has spoken about human development, and that for any society to grow, it has to work on the health and education of people. Spending more on the quality of education will ultimately reflect in human development.
Creating a school, college or university in any area is transformational for many families in a small town or city. Certain communities have it much better than oppressed communities who could not provide good education to their children. If we provide good education, and these students join sectors like IT, their families will also prosper. Higher education leads to improved employment prospects, which in turn leads to economic prosperity for the family and creates a positive cycle.
The Future’s Backbone
There are 25 to 30 crore families whose children are studying in schools or colleges. These students are the backbone of the future economy. The industry needs these trained youth. Had it not been so, companies like Infosys, Wipro, TCS or HCL would not have become big giants globally. The roots of this IT success are in engineering education. The roots of engineering education are in STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) education. So, there is a complete linkage between quality and reach of primary education to quality and reach of higher education.
We have seen schools and higher education progress. But problems continue especially in terms of lack of vision and resources. The National Education Policy (NEP) of 2020 will be a mirage if it is not funded properly. Primary education has reached almost every section of society, but the dropout rate is too high. Mostly it’s children from poor families because their financial condition does not allow them to study.
And only 27-28 per cent of youth are enrolled in higher education. I am not saying we change this overnight but the government should put a target of 50 per cent enrolment by 2035. Unless we have 50 per cent gross enrolment ratio (GER) in higher education, we can’t compete in the global market, when the likes of China have reached almost 50 per cent GER.
Education for all is not enough. We have to work on quality education for all and increase access.
The state cannot abdicate its responsibility for providing education opportunities. In a country with such extremes of riches and poverty, and diversity this is the government’s primary responsibility. At present, government schools lack teachers, hygiene, sanitation, infrastructure and security. Even the poor avoid them. They want to send their children to private schools that have come up in rural India.
Also, it was debated in the eighties and nineties, that higher education is not a public good, but rather a private good. But economists emphasise that it’s not a private good but needed for transforming society. One success story can create motivation for the whole ecosystem. So, the NEP created aspiration. But without the state taking the responsibility, it cannot be achieved.
Skills training after school for the vast section of the youth who will not be joining higher education is important. But skills-based education has faced several challenges in India. A ministry has been created, corporations have been formed, and funds are allocated, but skills-based education is not moving ahead.
There are certain skills needed in certain families, and many families would not like to send their children to those sectors, leather for example.
Also, it’s a very dynamic need. Skills requirements are not static. We are living in the era of disruptive technologies. The World Economic Forum calls it Industry 4.0 or Fourth Industrial Revolution. The skills needs are changing every few years, creating a mismatch. The education system is unable to keep pace as well.
There are repetitive jobs which are being done by robots, without taking leaves, without forming unions. But there are jobs in which human intelligence, empathy and values are needed. At the same time. it’s very difficult to predict which sector will grow and which one will not. For example, many edtech companies are laying off manpower, whereas they saw a boom during Covid. And now there is a 30 per cent increase in recruitment by airlines.
Having said this, for meaningful skills training, we need qualified trainers, and high-tech equipment and linkages with the industry so that the pass outs are immediately absorbed in the workforce.
Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house. Unless otherwise noted, the author is writing in his/her personal capacity. They are not intended and should not be thought to represent official ideas, attitudes, or policies of any agency or institution.