What is India’s biggest — and brightest — asset? Its people.
Or more precisely, its youthful, working-age population, which is set to become the world’s largest working-age population (972 million) by 2030.
In theory, economies that make productive use of their youth population can experience huge advances in growth. That’s what called “reaping the demographic dividend.”
Yet, India seems dangerously close to squandering its huge advantage given that it still isn’t doing enough to make productive use of its youth population. What do we mean by that? Providing proper education and skills training to our young men and women. Without those things, they can’t be active and productive members of society.
Yes, education remains one of India’s biggest and most pressing challenges. Currently, public spending accounts for more than 60 percent of education spending in India, but the quality and quantity of educational institutions and teachers are nowhere near satisfactory. Rote learning is actively encouraged and most curricula are hopelessly out of date with job market requirements.
“Despite the rising demand for skilled manpower as a result of India’s rapid economic growth, employers find a majority of new graduates are unemployable on account of inadequacies in the educational system,” noted a recent education sector report by a local brokerage, Anand Rathi.
That’s the tragedy of it all: even as hundreds of graduates search for jobs — any job — hundreds of jobs go abegging for lack of skilled workers.
Ironically, the implementation of the Right to Education Act, which guarantees every child between the age of 6 and 14 the constitutional right to education, might even make life even more difficult for those seeking education in private institutions.
According to The International Herald Tribune ( a sister publication of The New York Times), the Act makes strict demands on stringent teacher-student ratios, classroom sizes and parental involvement in school administration. Any school that fails to comply by 2013 could face closure.
The demands, the report said, threatens the operations of several private schools across the country. “Fifty percent (of private schools) will be closed down as per the Right to Education Act” a top education official in Hyderabad told the newspaper.
In a country where supply, not demand for education, is the real problem, the Act might serve to curtail the growth of private-sector educational institutes, which sprang up in the first place to ease the acute shortage of good schools.
If these issues are not resolved quickly, our demographic edge (India is the only country among BRIC nations to have a growing working-age population; Brazil, Russia and China are set to experience declining youth populations) could soon become an economic liability and India could quite easily join the list of economic has-beens.
As it is, some experts, including Jim O’Neill, the Goldman Sachs analyst who coined the term ‘BRIC’ recently noted that other emerging economies may now be better investments, especially Indonesia, Turkey, Egypt and Mexico, according to a Bloomberg report.
The brokerage also predicted that the average annual expansion of the BRIC countries would fall during this decade to 6.9 percent from 7.9 percent in the 10 years to 2009, then drop to 5.3 percent in the 2020s, according to the report.
Rapidly ageing populations, especially in China, will add to pressures and cause slower growth in future, it said, although the four countries will still significantly influence the global economy.
Nevertheless, Goldman Sachs believes the best times for the four nations are probably already over. “In terms of the role of the BRICs in driving global growth, the most dramatic change is behind us,” Bloomberg quoted the brokerage as saying in a note last month.
If that’s the case, India has no more time to lose. Faith is already diminishing in the potential of BRIC to remain economic growth drivers. By investing more, much more in our biggest asset (human resources), it’s up to India to prove that the world is wrong.