India needs to develop skills to deliver on demographic dividend

India needs to develop skills to deliver on demographic dividend

New Delhi: India has the lowest education indicators among the Group of 20 countries and the world’s largest number of illiterates. At the same time, about 12 million people need to join the workforce every year. Moreover, 500 million skilled people will be needed in the country by 2022.

How India could improve education and skills development to deliver on this demographic dividend was debated at the World Economic Forum’s India Economic Summit on Tuesday.

Also Read | WEF India Economic Summit (Full Coverage)

Most policymakers, while being aware of India’s skills, don’t entirely agree over which system or model of education suits a country that is as diverse and poorly connected as India.

Meanwhile, the best institutions providing elite education remained focused on academia. Most panellists agreed that while such elite education in India was world class, it was not the route to inclusivity.

Venkat Matoory, chief executive officer, Junior Achievement India, said the school system had not changed in his lifetime. “There is a lot of good teaching of physics, chemistry and biology, but sadly no context is provided to students." He said this restricted innovation and creativity to some extent.

Hari S. Bhartia, co-chairman and MD, Jubilant Bhartia Group, said there needed to be increased involvement of the private sector in providing education. He proposed a coupon system, which would limit the government’s involvement to subsidizing education, which would be facilitated by the private sector.

Bhartia and Accenture’s chairman and geography managing director, Harsh Manglik, were convinced that India could not fill the skills gap without market forces ensuring standards.

The emphasis shifted to the link between education and employability of the Indian workforce. The importance of e-learning—or using the Internet as a tool for education—was also brought up as one system that could be used.

The panel agreed that if India had to sustain its high growth trajectory, it needed to provide jobs and skills. The reality, however, was that large numbers of people still live in rural areas and work in agriculture, which in turn contributes a substantial proportion of gross domestic product.

Moreover, pressures on land were pushing many to seek other opportunities, potentially unlocking a huge stock of manpower.

Many question whether India, with its feeble infrastructure, and insufficient industrial sector, can create enough jobs to absorb them.

An even bigger issue is whether most young Indians have, or can be given, the skills required to fill both white and blue collar jobs rapidly being created.

Many believe India is poised to cash in on a demographic advantage but to achieve this means new models for education have to be created and for a country of India’s size, this means the private sector may be required to provide reach and scale.

But whatever has to be done needs to be done quickly given the Indian labour force will keep growing, and by 2035 the population will reach 1.5 billion, with about 65% of people being of working age, making India the world’s largest labour market.

The promoters of HT Media Ltd, which publishes Mint, and Jubilant Life Sciences, a Jubilant group company, are closely related. There are no promoter cross-holdings.