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There was a time, not so long ago, when India was more or less certain that its place at the global high table was well within reach.
It was around that time — in the first half of the UPA 2 regime — two phrases, which probably formed the basis of such confidence, were repeated ad nauseam by government spinmasters in their speeches: ‘knowledge economy’ and ‘demographic dividend’.
The line was simple: India must leverage its demographic dividend and build a knowledge economy to develop faster.
But now a series of consecutive reports on the education sector, the very basis of a knowledge economy, shows that things are not as rosy as it was made out to be and that the much-talked-about demographic dividend would not be of any use unless and until we could fix the problem in the education sector. According to Unesco’s 11th Education For All Global Monitoring Report, which was released this week, 90% of children from poor families remain illiterate despite completing four years of school education.
Also, around 30% of children remain illiterate even after attending five-six years of school.
While the government spends a considerable amount of money on primary education, the truth is that much of it is spent on capital costs and salaries and not on improving the quality of education. Unsurprisingly, as the Annual Status of Education Report 2013, pointed out, there has been a spurt in the number of private schools.
The situation on the other side of the spectrum — higher education — is equally bad. According to the National Skill Report 2014 prepared by the CII, PeopleStrong and Wheebox, most of our graduates are not employable.
The study, which made an assessment of one lakh students, found that only 34% were employable. This is not the first warning bell: as early as 2006, the State-run National Knowledge Commission had highlighted this ‘quiet crisis’ in higher education. But as the new reports show, despite several reminders, nothing much has changed. For India, becoming a knowledge economy still remains a distant dream.