Education is key to a healthy democracy

Education is key to a healthy democracy

After 75 years of Independence, caste, language and religious divides continue to be hurdles for our democracy

Representative Image. Credit: iStock Photo

In a democratic country, people elect their representatives to work for a quality life and inclusive growth opportunities for them. The quality of the public representatives, in turn, depends on the quality of the people who vote for them. So, the root cause of problems as well as solutions lies with the voters. They must be properly educated to choose their leaders.  

The New Education Policy points out that nearly five crore children in elementary schools do not have foundational literacy and numeracy skills. As per ASER 2017, a large portion of students surveyed had trouble with the foundational skills of reading and doing arithmetic, fared poorly in abilities of calculating and telling time. Only a little over 50% of children enrolled in schools make it to Class 12; less than half of them enter higher education.

Millions of children in India do not follow NCERT syllabus, which includes study of literature, history, social science, geography, English and fine arts, etc., along with math and science; children are supposed to study those subjects to become rounded, responsible citizens. The government should ensure quality education up to Class 12 through a uniform NCERT syllabus for at least 70% of the population; it will have a positive impact on democracy, governance and self-employment. Retired government servants, senior teachers, educated youth and media should contribute to achieve this objective.

Like poor education, poverty also allows democracy to malfunction. The poor feel that casting votes responsibly won’t change their lives. They have only one immediate worry -- how to survive with the bare minimum facilities they can access, forget about quality food, health and education. So, they fall victim to vote-bank politics for free food and freebies.

The pandemic has intensified poverty and unemployment. According to a study conducted by Azim Premji University, the daily earnings of 230 million people slipped below the national minimum wage threshold of Rs 320. The Global Hunger Index (2020) — which is calculated on the basis of total undernourishment of the population, child stunting, wasting and child mortality — ranks India 94 among 107 countries. 

The central government says it has spent Rs 1,15,570 crore in 2020-21 to provide subsidised food to 80 crore people, and disputes India’s low ranking in the Global Hunger Index. The government, instead of giving food subsidies, should create the right environment for people to earn income with self-respect.

In the age of automation and artificial intelligence, it may be impossible to find quality jobs for 142 crore people in industry and IT and services sectors in cities. A mostly mono-sector-based economy will push millions of unskilled villagers into the urban slums. Tapping employment opportunities in agriculture, tourism, handicrafts, weaving, fishery, pilgrimage tourism, horticulture and animal husbandry, etc., will help achieve inclusive growth.

When a large number of young people leave villages for menial work in cities, it creates poverty and unrest in both urban and rural areas; old people in the families become helpless. Many economic sectors that are woven around nature look deserted. Big financial poachers take advantage of this situation and grab fertile agricultural lands and other natural resources.

Villagers should be properly guided to earn incomes from the natural sector economy. When their incomes rise, quality education comes to their doorsteps; with education, people become capable of exercising adult franchise and choosing their leaders responsibly. The intelligentsia, instead of lamenting over economic, social, political and cultural decadence, should spend time to educate children so that they grow into socially and politically conscious citizens.  

After 75 years of Independence, caste, language and religious divides continue to be hurdles for our democracy. They do not allow people to cast their votes with free and independent minds. The caste leaders often manipulate their voting choices; national parties accommodate caste leaders only to remain in power.

In recent years, the leaders of dominant castes such as Patidars, Marathas, Kapus, Jats and Brahmins have been demanding quotas. This does not augur well for democracy. Besides, the growth of minority and majority community vote-banks blurs the capacity of voters to choose good leaders. Genuine nationalist parties must work to cement the divisions in society, not tear them apart further.

The non-participation of honest and educated people in politics has also made democracy sick. Most such people know they can’t beat politicians who have money and muscle power. But, despite these adverse circumstances, well-educated people must contest elections; even their defeat will create awareness among voters and strengthen democracy. Voter awareness will contribute to inclusive democracy, which will help elect good politicians.

As per the 2011 census, about 8.15% of people in India are graduates; this is too small a number to support the world’s largest democracy. The nation should have at least 30% of its population as graduates. Quality education, economic diversity and participation of honest and educated people in the election process will make India a performing democracy. 

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