Double digit growth is within reach, but can be sustained only by massive education & skill development, says Dr Narendra Jadhav.

India's present growth momentum is sufficient to launch into a double digit growth orbit. But to sustain it in that lofty height in the next two or three decades, India needs to qualitatively improve its education and skill development programmes, besides massively widening and deepening its reach, says Dr Narendra Jadhav, Member of the National Advisory Council ( NAC) and also of the Planning Commission.
Dr Narendra Jadhav was delivering the 7th H M Trivedi Memorial Lecture on "Demographic Dividend? Or Disaster?" at Indian Merchants Chamber on January 17. The erudite audience consisted of Dr Jyotiben Trivedi - former Vice-Chancellor of SNDT University, well-known economists, professors from the Bombay University and other academic institutions and industrialists.
Welcoming Dr Jadhav and other distinguished guests, Mr Dilip Dandekar, IMC President, said that India was now on the threshold of a new era with a potential for harvesting a rich demographic dividend, owing to its distinct advantage of a staggering 51% of its population of 1.1 billion people under 25 years and two-thirds under 35.
"India's 'youth bulge', expected to last till 2050, can either turn out to be its greatest asset or a demographic disaster, if the government either succeeds or fails to provide education and jobs for its burgeoning work force. By 2020, the average age of an Indian is expected to be 29 years, compared with 39 for China and 48 for Japan," Mr Dandekar pointed out.
The biggest challenge before the nation would be that of educating and skilling the growing youth population. "If we fail to do so and also to make the economic growth inclusive, social cohesion in the country may be seriously affected. With India's working age population set to hit 761 million within the next five years, the nation faces a serious unemployment problem that could spark social unrest and a tumble in growth rates from the current levels of 8 to 9%," the IMC President said.
Agreeing with Mr Dandekar's observations, Dr Narendra Jadhav said that the Prime Minister was acutely conscious of the great challenge and all arms of the government machinery were gearing themselves up to cope with it effectively. Under the direct guidance of the Prime Minister, the Government had initiated some major steps to improve the situation.
He said, "In the field of higher education, next 18 months will witness revolutionary changes. Indian Parliament will be enacting five Bills to deal with the issue. Laws will be passed making accreditation of the universities and colleges mandatory. They will also devise steps to prevent malpractices in the Engineering and Medical Education. The National Knowledge Commission has recommended setting up of the National Commission on Higher Education & Research, which will overhaul the system and bring about the desired changes."
The Prime Minister was also taking revolutionary measures as regards skill development. Among these measures were: (a) Setting up a National Mission for Skill Development, headed by the Prime Minister himself. (b) A National skill development coordination body of 17 Ministries to be set up and (c) under the umbrella of Union Finance Ministry, the National Skill Development Corporation would function on Public-Private Partnership basis.
The Prime Minister had set a national target for achieving 500 million skilled population by 2022, when the world was expected to face acute shortage of skilled manpower. Dr Jadhav urged the business community in general and Indian Merchants Chamber in particular to "lend their shoulders to this gigantic national endeavour in their own enlightened self-interest".
Describing the present situation, Dr Jadhav said: "At present average age of the Indian population is only 24, which is expected to rise to 29 years by 2020, when the average of age in China is will be 37, Europe 45 and Japan 48. Unlike in other countries, the ratio of the working population in India will keep rising in the next two decades, giving India a distinct advantage of 'bulge in the middle.' That this phenomenon is coinciding with the present high rate of economic growth is fortuitous. If we effectively harness it, it can be a boon, but if we fail it will be a bane," Dr Jadhav said.
He pointed out that India was able to break loose from a measly 3% plus growth rate witnessed in the between 1951 and 1986 and achieve 6% plus growth between 1991 and 2001 following adoption of the policy of LPG (liberalization, privatization and globalization).
He said: "And in 2002 India was able to push up its growth rate further to 8% plus. Between 2005 and 2009, its growth rate averaged 9% -- the second fastest growth -- holding out the distinct promise of achieving double digit growth in the next couple of years, sheerly because of the ongoing growth momentum. But in respect of the Human Development Index, India ranks among the lowest 20 nations. In this bleak scenario, how can India sustain a double digit growth for two or three decades? And how can India sustain a high growth?"
Dr Jadhav said that the anticipated democratic dividend would not happen automatically, and should not be taken for granted. For sustaining the high growth rate and reaping demographic dividend, India would need to improve the quality and spread of education and skills development on an unprecedented scale. Without a massive effort at human development, the burgeoning young population could be great threat. "Economic growth must go hand in hand with social growth," he said.
Turning to the higher education scenario in India, Dr Jadhav said there were the formidable triple problems pertaining to: (a) low rate of access to higher education, (b) poor quality of higher education, and (c) mismatch between higher education and employability.
He said the gross employability ratio (GER) for young men (between 18 and 23 years) in India was a lowly 12.4%, which was half the world average of 24%. The GER for China was 23%, while that for industrialized countries was 58%. "Do you know what is the GER for Scheduled Castes (SC) in India? It is just 1.4%. And 98.6% of SC young men have no access to higher education. The plight of Scheduled Tribes (ST), Muslims and such other sections is equally bad," he said.
As for the quality of higher education, he said the curricula of our Universities were old and outdated; teachers taught the same thing what they had learnt decades earlier without bothering to upgrade themselves and the infrastructures of education and skill development were abysmal.
Dr Jadhav observed: "Of all the Indian Universities, only 20% are accredited. Surveys have found that 33% of Indian engineering graduates are not employable. As for skill development, 39% Indian factory workers are totally illiterate and 41% have education only upto the 10th Std. In such a scenario, how can the double digit growth be sustained?"

Source: Indian Merchants Chamber -  January 18, 2011