News

India's Working Age Population Growing in Size, Lacking in Education and Skills

Even as India emerges as one of the world's major economies, it is still struggling to achieve widespread literacy among its people, and officials say there is a massive shortage of skilled labor. VOA's Steve Herman reports from New Delhi that a large labor force by itself is not enough to offset the economic damage from a failure to educate.

India has 320 million people between the ages of six and 16. In a decade, India will be home to 800 million people of working age. All that available labor is touted as a competitive advantage over the rapidly aging populations of the developed world.

The equation, however, is not as simple as it seems.

A report by the Confederation of Indian Industry and the World Economic Forum has emphasized that India's burgeoning economy needs not just more workers, but more skilled workers. The experts agree that failure to educate its people is hurting India's economy.

Chaly Mah is the Asia-Pacific chief of Deloitte, a global consulting company. He says there is a widespread misconception that India and China have a lot of people available for hire.

"I think that's a myth, because when you talk about skilled labor and skilled professionals, there is actually a massive shortage. And I think the core of the problem is you've got to start from the very beginning, and that is, ensure that you have a solid education system," said Mah.

India is still struggling to achieve nationwide literacy, especially among girls and the rural poor.

Some two-thirds of Indians are now believed to be literate, compared to less than 20 percent in 1951, when the first census was taken after independence. But critics complain that literacy is often defined as merely being able to write one's own name. And one-third of a billion-plus people, those still illiterate, is an awful lot of people without basic education.

Education became a fundamental right for children in India only at the beginning of this decade. But many poverty-stricken parents feel compelled to have their children work, rather than go to school.

Shamsher Mehta is director-general of the Confederation of Indian Industry.

"A very high percentage don't go to school, an even higher percentage are dropping out of school. And therefore, while it looks like a demographic advantage today, if you don't do something about it - both in public and private - then I'm afraid this risk might just slip out of our hands and might become a liability," said Mehta.

Mehta was among those speaking about the country's development challenges and risks during the World Economic Forum's India Economic Summit this week in New Delhi.

Shekhar Dutt is a former top education official in the state of Madhya Pradesh, and is now a deputy national security advisor. He told business leaders at the event that while India's state and central governments are serious about the goal of universal education, it is not just a matter of having higher enrollment.

"If you try to enroll girls into rural schools and if there are no toilets, it's a difficult thing. So when we take up things like larger enrollment, we have to also see that the infrastructure of the schools are improved," said Dutt.

Many villages do not even have a primary school and, frequently, those that do are poorly funded and might not even contain blackboards or desks.

Another significant problem is that teachers are poorly trained and many, especially in rural communities, do not show up for class regularly. The report says many of those who do show up do not have an adequate curriculum and will discriminate against students who are from poor families or members of lower castes.

International organizations, including the World Bank, have contributed funds for expanding primary education in India. The country does have a number of high-quality convent schools, a legacy of the British colonial era. Private schools, most of which were established after independence, remain - with token exceptions - the provenance of the elite.

Former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright told the forum it is urgent for India to narrow the gap between rich and poor if the country's education and manpower needs are to be met.

"Because it creates these issues that others have talked about, in terms of lack of education, lack of sanitation, bad usage of resources and the whole way of how to include the vast number of people within any society within the legal framework," she said.

The industrial confederation and economic forum joint report says India should improve the training and discipline of teachers, to ensure better education.

At present, nearly all of the money allocated for education by the central government goes to pay teachers' salaries. The government has financed various state-run schemes, including free textbooks for girls and the underprivileged, with varying degrees of success. In some states, critics say, money that is allocated is not being spent.


Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prisoni
X
Heather Murdock
July 01, 2015 8:59 PM
As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Nubians in Kenya Face Land Challenges

East Africa's ethnic Nubians have a rich cultural history that dates back thousands of years, but in Kenya they are facing hardships, including the loss of lands they have lived on for generations. They say the government has reneged on its pledge to award them title deeds for the plots. VOA's Lenny Ruvaga reports.
Video

Video Military Experts Question New Russian Tank Capabilities

Russia has been showing off its new tank design – the Armata T-14. Designers claim it is 20 years ahead of current Western designs - and driving it feels like playing a computer game. But military analysts question those assertions, and warn the cost could be too heavy a burden for Russia’s struggling economy. Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs