The grim prediction made in a UNICEF report that India will have the highest number of secondary school graduates among South Asian nations — at over 300 million — by 2030 but nearly half of them will lack skills to enter the workforce, will hopefully not be taken as an alarmist warning without substance. But the report, prepared by Unicef and the Education Commission on the basis of a study of the state of education in India and other South Asian countries, has found it wanting in imparting knowledge and vocational skills that will help graduates to do work and earn their livelihoods.
Only 47% of Indian school graduates will have basic skills, with ‘’low-quality education and sub-optimal vocational training’’ contributing to the situation. The situation in other countries is not much better. But that is poor consolation because India will have the largest number of unemployed and unemployable youth.
The annual Pratham surveys have reported how bad the standards of reading, writing and arithmetic are in our schools. Many experts and business leaders have also pointed out how poorly equipped and unfit our technology and management graduates are for jobs. Higher education standards are bad, and the foundation laid in schools is inadequate. Some basic vocational skills should be acquired by students in schools so that they can find work even if they do not continue their education. The South Asian region has the world’s largest number of young people, with almost half of the population below the age of 24. India has the most of them, but this claimed demographic dividend is likely to become a liability if the young people are unable to work.
These views have been expressed before. UNICEF has supported them with a study and a projection of numbers. Its executive director Henrietta Fore has put it more clearly: Every day, nearly 1,00,000 young South Asians enter the labour market, almost half of them not on track to find 21st-century jobs. Get it (demographic dividend) right, and millions could be lifted out of poverty. Fail to do so, and economic growth will falter, and youth despair will rise. A survey conducted by Unicef among young people in the region also revealed their concerns and worries about the future. The concern should be most serious in India. Most preoccupations of our governments and politicians look unreal and irrelevant in view of this challenge facing the nation. The message is that the school system needs a revamp next week, next month or next year for the sake of the country’s future.