Dhaka, Bangladesh
The ticking bomb

What others say

The ticking bomb

For a country that aims to be a global growth hub, the latest Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) for rural India makes for dismal reading. The survey for the report carried out in 28 districts across 24 states paints a sorry picture of school education. Focussing on 14-18 year old students who comprise the first batch to pass Class VIII after the implementation of the Right to Education Act, the report finds that one-fourth of the students are unable to read their own language fluently, while 57% of them struggle to solve a simple sum of division. Additionally, 14% of the students couldn’t identify the map of India and another 36% couldn’t name the capital of the country. ASER’s findings clearly show that school education in India suffers from serious systemic lacunae. And these can’t be addressed through legislations alone. While enrollment rates in schools have gone up significantly, learning outcomes appear to have stagnated. In short, for a large section of secondary and higher secondary students in this country, it hardly matters whether they are in school or not. This massive shortfall in skilling, which cannot be made up for with ‘Skill India’ programmes, has serious repercussions for India’s economy and society. With more than a million youth joining the workforce every month, poor education standards mean that many of them won’t be employable. That in turn could see unemployed youngsters channel their energies towards destructive ends, turning India’s demographic dividend into a demographic time bomb. The only solution is to focus on improving education quality in schools through measures such as hiring and assessing teachers on merit, or rigorous mapping of learning outcomes and rewards for schools that do well – as well as penalties, including changes in management, for those that don’t. It’s a tragedy that education isn’t a political issue in India unless it concerns frivolous matters such as re-writing textbooks to incorporate the reigning political flavour of the day. But getting education right can solve an array of seemingly intractable problems such as the battle over caste reservations, gender inequality and lack of opportunity for youth. At a time when countries like China are equipping their young for jobs of the future involving robotics and artificial intelligence, we are yet to get the basics right. Along with job creation, improving education quality must be made the top national priority. —The Times of India

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