Demographic dividend, as defined by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) means, “the economic growth potential that can result from shifts in a population’s age structure, mainly when the share of the working-age population (15 to 64) is larger than the non-working-age share of the population (14 and younger, and 65 and older).” In other words, it is “a boost in economic productivity that occurs when there are growing numbers of people in the workforce relative to the number of dependents.” UNFPA stated that, “A country with both increasing numbers of young people and declining fertility has the potential to reap a demographic dividend.
According to the UNFPA definition, our country has “Demographic Dividend”. The demographic dividend that India expects for next 30 years is on the basis of the youthful age of population. The basic presumption is that their youthful energy and appetite to improve the quality of life will make them productive and the same in turn will accelerate economic growth of the country. However, this presumption leads to the following relevant questions:
- Whether increase in workforce will automatically lead to achieve dividend i.e., economic growth?
- If it is not so, what measures need to be taken to make that workforce worthy of attaining the goal?
- Once the measures are known, are we equipped enough to make them available to the target group?
- If it is otherwise, what steps we have to initiate at right earnest to put in place the required infrastructure at the earliest?
Let’s now discuss the issues at length with a view to having a reality check-up of the situation prevailing in the country. It does not require any elaboration that we are a country with a large number of working age population but does it mean we have the demographic dividend? This group of population is spread over all areas viz. metro, urban, semi-urban and rural. While the workforce in metro and urban centres even though not having proper skill set, is somehow engaged (fully / partly employed), workforce in semi-urban and more particularly, in rural area is worst affected in the absence of proper skill and / or employment opportunities.
The standards and ethics in education at all levels in the country have been declining at a fast pace. Responsibility lies squarely on both parents and teachers. While parents are failing miserably in their duties to impart ethical values to their wards, the failure on the part of the teachers is attributed to the following factors:
- Enormous shortage of teachers at all levels – schools, colleges, universities and even in the field of research. There are also many absent teachers with surrogates in their places.
- Recruitment of under-qualified teachers who have a superficial knowledge of their subjects and no teacher training, particularly up to school level.
- Highly fragile syllabus which help only to secure marks in examinations but fail to impart proper knowledge.
- ‘One size fits all’ is the hall mark of our education policy. In the absence of proper guidance, all the children are undergoing formal education – from primary to secondary to higher secondary to college and even, to the university – creating a huge number of educated but hardly qualified work- force. Over the period, they became a real burden for the country. The tradition is continuing.
- Mediocre standard of research in most of the higher institutions further diminishes the quality of teachers.
- There is no place of meritocracy in Indian education space and everybody is treated at par. This acts as negative rewards to the real learned faculty members.
- Political interference in education system has vitiated the atmosphere in most of the institutions. JNU in Delhi is a burning example.
It, thus, does not require any further analysis and knowledge to know the quality of majority of the students coming out of the system. Again, in the absence of any guidance, everybody is passing through the same academic system – from school to college and even to university. They possess very shallow knowledge bereft of any practical exposure. As a result, they are neither fit for white collar jobs nor for blue collar jobs. Recent statistics reveal that only 22% of all engineering graduates are employable. In all, they are becoming / will become highly dissatisfied and frustrated as they are forced to remain either unemployed or resort to low paid casual work. As a repercussion, they will be restive which will increase criminal activities. The result will be a nightmare – Dividend will be disaster and economy might turn into a “sick” economy.
Taking the aforesaid factors into consideration, one can safely conclude that the prevailing situation is not at all congenial to derive demographic dividend for the country. In other words, the present workforce is going to be a social disaster / nightmare if they are not provided with proper guidance, education and appropriate skill.
Having said that, we should now discuss what steps we need to take to make the demographic dividend a reality, as under:
- First of all, the vacancies in schools, colleges and universities have to be filled up urgently.
- The standard of teachers has to be maintained at any cost and standard of research has also to be at the desired level.
- The syllabus has to be framed keeping in view the greater interest of the students not for securing marks alone. In the process, they will become really qualified not just educated.
- Pay structure of the teachers has to be merit based and not equal for everyone. This will certainly help improve the standard of education.
- Last but the most important one is to ensure against any sort of political interference in education system which in turn will help bringing back a congenial atmosphere for study in educational institutions
If the aforesaid changes can be brought into, there is no doubt that standard of education will improve to a substantial extent. But the question remains: Will that help the country to reap Demographic Dividend?
Probably, the answer is “No”. You may wonder why it is so? Let me now explain where we have gone wrong. To understand the issue clearly, we need to go to the genesis of it, step by step:
- Primary Education: It must be mandatory for all children which, as the position stands today, is almost ensured. So first part is more or less addressed by the States and the Union Territories.
- Secondary Education: Though it is a must for all children, it is not happening even after the lapse of 68 years of independence. Though steps have been taken by Central as well as State Governments from time to time but the same failed to ensure education of all children up to this level. Huge drop-outs are there at various stages up to Std. X, particularly in rural areas. The fate of those children is not known to us.
- Higher Secondary Education: The students after coming of the secondary education scramble for admission for higher secondary education. Here it would be pertinent to mention that the capacity of institutions where one can enrol is lesser than that of students passed out of secondary schools. So a large number of students are left out at that level whose fate also not known to us. Again, at this stage, the students have the option of choosing stream viz. Science, Arts and Commerce but not in true sense as in most of cases he / she is not getting the stream of his / her choice.
- Under Graduate Education: After completing their higher secondary education, some of the students join in specialised courses like Medical, Engineering, etc. but most of them go for formal college education – Science, Arts and Commerce with or without any specialised subject. Here, also a large number of students remain out of the education for various reasons including paucity of seats in the colleges. We also do not know the fate of those students.
- Post Graduate Education: Only a few Graduates from Colleges can make it to this level leaving a majority to search for a job to meet their livelihood. Similar situation prevails in case of Engineering Graduates as well.
If we try to go a little deep into the prevailing education system, it can be observed that the students are mostly directionless as nobody is there to guide them. In most of the cases, they have been pursuing their studies without any application of mind. The result is obvious. We have an extremely large number of so called educated youths, mostly unemployed as because even the Graduates coming out of the colleges are disproportionately large in number as compared to white collar jobs available in the country.
It is amply clear now that the present system is not going to harness the demographic dividend at all. To be frank, the effort of the Governments both in State and Central and other agencies for skill development is not going to address the issue. Sooner or later these are going to be an exercise in futility.
What then are the ways and means to tackle the situation? Without any hesitation, we can say that to derive real benefit, we need to have positive mind set and real political will to strictly implement the following:
- The quality of education has to be of paramount importance. To ensure that, we need to have independent regulatory bodies who will oversee the performance of the educational institutions without any outside pressure, bias and favour.
- It is be ensured by all concerned that every child gets proper education up to Secondary Stage without fail.
- After completion of Secondary education, mapping of every student has to be done on the basis of his / her aptitude, calibre, knack, talent, etc. by a Team of Experts. The parents of the student have to be counselled accordingly and will be suggested the way forward in respect of their children. The school authorities will be guiding the students to pursue as per suggested lines.
- The concerned Government Departments will set up outfits for multiple skill development at Panchayat / Block levels. This task can very well be performed by NGOs under the active supervision of Government departments. National Skill Development Corporation will act as a Nodal Agency for this purpose.
- In the process, students with real focus and calibre will only pursue further education. Once again, immediately after completion of Higher Secondary education, Under Graduate courses and Post Graduate courses, the same procedure has to be adopted as is recommended after completion of Secondary education. Accordingly, the students will be guided on a continuous basis.
It can thus be concluded that the country has to provide proper and continuous guidance to its young populace to make “Demographic Dividend” a reality. Failure on our part to channelize the youth energy towards productive purposes will prove to a Disaster – a nightmare. Time is ticking away fast. We have to start the process at right earnest – sooner the better.