India's human capital formation

Mar 15, 2012, 07:12 IST | Vikram Sood

Security is a term that is viewed differently by most of us most of the time. From the basic definition that perhaps seeks only a padlocked house to the most elaborate definitions that include all aspects of human life and that of a nation

Security is a term that is viewed differently by most of us most of the time. From the basic definition that perhaps seeks only a padlocked house to the most elaborate definitions that include all aspects of human life and that of a nation. In the present context where India seeks greatness and its role in global affairs the larger definition is relevant. A state must also provide security through effective law and order to its citizens. It must also provide appropriate education, health and employment for its citizens whose quality of life must continually improve along with complete governance that ensures basic freedoms and justice.

Nations become great through their own efforts and greatness cannot be had free. No other nation will grant it to us. Military might and economic power will bestow regional dominance. But this alone will not sustain the country unless we go beyond electoral opportunism, limit dependence on external sources for the defence of the nation and become a manufacturing nation and not just one that provides goods and services. External greatness will be attained only through internal cohesion of this gigantic effort not through seeking its membership of the UNSC or being able to dine under Baccarat chandeliers with other rich leaders from richer countries.

No welfare state: A stray Lamborghini that we see merely expresses
economic disparity, not well being

Ultimately it is the quality of the man or woman that handles the business of building a nation which matters most. It is people working in their own area of expertise, skill and attainments that will determine the kind of cohesiveness that these skills bring to the nation which will help it attain greatness. It is not correct to measure greatness in term of GDP in a country that fairs poorly in all Human Development Indicators. The stray Lamborghini merely expresses economic disparity, not well being.
There is a long list of prerequisites that will have to put together to help us get where we want to be. Apart from the degradation of politics and institutions, the criminal political bureaucratic and entrepreneur nexus, which allows for continued oppression of the underprivileged that sustains Naxalism and degradation of the environment. It is this lack of political cohesion and decline of values which will affect the well being of the future generations.

When we look at the problems and advantages of the youth bulge of our population we find that we are going to have a young potentially employable and socially productive population which could be a boon to our growth story. Cold statistics however tell their own story.

Dedicated and qualified teachers are difficult to find in India, especially in the rural areas, 25 per cent of primary school teachers are absent according to World bank figures, and 90 per cent of children in villages work mostly in agriculture. Our starting blocks in other aspects are weak too given our standards of illiteracy and malnutrition. By 2030 there will be 1.53 billion of us, with 962 million employable in the age group of 15-59 years and of which 423 million will be unemployed.

A demographic dividend from this will be available only if there is no mismatch between labour skills required and jobs available in the market. And to judge how far behind we are in providing quality education is that we have only 348 universities for a billion plus population as compared to 4,000 in Japan for its population of 127 million and 3,650 in the US for its population of 301 million.

Will we have adequate jobs for all these young by then? Will we be able to equip them with the requisite and varied skills that will be required at a time when technology would have advanced exponentially? If we continue to churn out semi literates and mass produced graduates with non employable skills and exploding expectations, we are going to have a revolution on our hands.

Education -- from primary to doctoral and everything in between -- is far too important to be left to quotas and road side fly-by-night operations. Instead, we need a gigantic, national, all inclusive effort by the government and the corporate sector who are stake holders too. Unless this happens with political cohesion and a vision that looks beyond survival politics, our dreams will sour.

The writer is a former chief of Research and Analysis Wing (RAW)

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