Originally Published 2012-06-07 00:00:00 Published on Jun 07, 2012
A large mass of uneducated and undereducated would become part of the labour force over the next decade, adding to the potential of the mid-career education market. Neither the government nor the private sector seems to be gearing up for this opportunity.
The huge size of undereducated youth in the workforce needs to be addressed
A simple trend analysis on the internet would reveal that ’education’ is more searched than the words ’health’ and ’politics’. The discussions on education today are wide-ranging and prolific. We have debates on ’demographic dividend’ versus ’liability’, discussions around skilling the youth, employability and quality of teaching and education infrastructure. These conversations on education also question delivery models, the role of the state and the treatment of education as a public good vis-a-vis attempts to position it as a private good lending themselves to the associated discourse on investment, profits, subsidy and charity in education.

These deliberations are ignited by, but often oblivious of, the stark realities. India has only 11% students in the age-group 17-23 attending 610 universities, higher and technical institutions, and nearly 28,000 colleges and polytechnics (ministry of human resource development). Nearly 40% students fail to complete primary education and another 40% fail to complete secondary education. When these percentages convert to absolute numbers, the sheer size of uneducated and undereducated youth in the workforce is colossal.

Even though demographic estimates over the next few decades clearly indicate a downward trend for the population size in the age group 0-14 as well as 15-24 (implying some easing of pressure), the huge cumulative unmet supply gap would continue to be critical.

It also means that a large mass of uneducated and undereducated would become part of the labour force over the next decade, adding to the potential of the mid-career education market, including skill and professional development. Neither the government, nor the private sector seems to be gearing up for this opportunity. Another phenomenon to watch out for is the rise of the population over 60 years of age. With nearly 20% of India’s population likely to be in the above-60 age band, the group could be productively engaged as faculty and for experience-based learning. In fact, if in less than three decades, India will need to confront the reality of an additional 200 million senior citizens, the entire discussion on working age, pensions, productivity and skills may need a revisit.

With nearly 40% migration rate, the urban centres are becoming a sought-after destination for employment and education. According to NSS surveys, 20% of the 16-25 age-group migrants cite ’studies’ as one of the major reasons for moving to urban centres. About 30-40% male migrants from Bihar, Jharkhand, Orissa and Madhya Pradesh cite the same reason for moving into cities. Interestingly, more women migrants from north-east have expressed the same motivation to move to urban centres for higher studies.

Similarly, 30-40% of the total Muslims migrating from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Jharkhand are moving to seek education. Movement of large number of youth from hill states for education is an indication of the individual seeking tools to improve their lot and to enhance their ability to tap into the economic transformation visible in certain sectors and geographies in India. The political messaging and propositions in the ongoing provincial elections seem to have ignored this underlying impulse.

There are reasons for the private sector to cheer as most states are indicating a flourishing growth of private sector institutions. NSS samples show that states like Punjab, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu have reported the average per-capita spending on education as 10,000-20,000. This growth may not necessarily be due to supply constraints but a result of preferences, dictated by perceptions regarding the quality and employability potential of the education on offer. Though more persons are aspiring for better education and moving to urban centres, the disparities between communities, income groups and religious groups in urban centres are sharper than ever. The disparity in monthly per-capita expenditure (MPCE), access to basic facilities like energy, education and other public services is growing rapidly.

For example, the average MPCE of Muslims in urban centres is 1,300; nearly half of them live at less than 32 per day and have only 4% graduates compared to the Hindus who have an MPCE close to the country average (nearly 50% more than Muslims) and have nearly 15% graduates. Similar trends are evident when we look at access to education, LPG, water and electricity. This means that the cities that are attracting youth from across the country are not able to match up to their aspirations, neither educationally nor economically. Is there a policy void? Is their more equity in rural India than urban India? Do we need to rethink urban education in the light of this inequity?

The stagnation in formal, classroom-based education due to the changing demographics, infrastructure and faculty constraints is a complication in waiting. The visible and increasing quest for education in the minorities, in the men and women from the east, in the rising share of private institutions in the business of education are all questioning the relevance of the current methods of planning and certainly challenging traditional discourse on education being merely a ’public good’. The willingness of the people and their capacity to pay is now making education more personal and aspirational - a trend that cannot be discounted in urban and education planning.

(The author is programme adviser at Observer Research Foundation)

Courtesy: The Economic Times, June 7, 2012

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