Monday, May 9, 2011

India's Promise and Peril

Reading time at Christel House India

Via Hindustan Times
Last month, Rajbala was the first girl ever to appear for Class 10 exams in modern-day Rajasthan's block of Kishangarh Bas, where the female literacy rate ranges from 6% to 25% (nationally, it is 65%). Rajbala is a Dalit. She, her parents, both agricultural workers, and five siblings live in a two-room house.

"My parents never wanted me to go to school," said Rajbala. "They needed me for house and farm work. But I persisted. I convinced them."

Rajbala's achievements showcase the determination that drives the world's youngest nation, which has raised its literacy rate by 9 points to 74% in the last decade.

India now has the world's largest demographic dividend, or share of working-age people — about 781 million between 15 to 64 years old.

Rajbala's story also represents why India is in danger of forfeiting that dividend.

The demographic dividend of the world's youngest country is in danger of becoming a democratic liability because its public-education system is failing.

As the demand for a better tomorrow through education becomes one of the biggest expectations changing Indian politics, delivering it to what is now the world's youngest country is a formidable challenge.

By 2020, the median age in India will be 28, in China 37, in the US 38 and in western Europe 45. But this demographic dividend could turn into a deficit if these young people — more than 500 million are under 25 — remain under-educated, unskilled, unemployed or unemployable.

By next year, India could be short of 5 million with the right skills, says a report from the Boston Consulting Group, at a time when there already are 1.3 million unskilled and unqualified school dropouts and illiterates.

There is little time to lose if young people like Rajbala are to make the transition from school to the job market.

Now take India's primary school enrollment figures — at 93%, these are impressive.

But the quality of such education for children between six and 14, the base for all future learning, shows a consistent decline.

Nationally, there has also been a decline in the ability to do things such as basic math and recognise numbers.

It doesn't matter if you fail in a government primary school. You will be promoted anyway until Class 8.

The mundane task of setting learning targets is vital to reversing India's quality slide. "There's a need to clearly outline the learning outcomes that must be achieved at the end of Class 2, Class 5 and Class 8 in order to give substance to Right To Education Act," says Madhav Chavan, head of Pratham.
Read the entire article to find out how three states tried to improve the education system in their regions.

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