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Education is the real catalyst for human development
  • March 15 2012

Living in the fast-growing—and now labelled “fast-developing"—market of India, it is fascinating to compare recent U.S. Census numbers with those of India.

Recently, the U.S. Census reported that in March 2011, for the first time in U.S. history, more than 30 percent of adults 25 and older had at least a bachelor’s degree. I couldn’t help but wonder how this stat compares with Indian numbers and what journey our country would have to take to climb the education ladder.

Economists have built several theories linking the human development index of a country with the education level of its citizens, especially women. Indian economist and Nobel laureate Amartya Sen has compared the human development index of the state of Kerala in India with those of several north European countries. The results show that the scores are broadly comparable and actually mirror the level of women’s education. But Kerala is just one state that accounts for less than eight percent of India’s national population.

According to the Census of India, the country reached a literacy rate of 74 percent in 2011. This seems like an abomination, since it means that the country still has more than 300 million illiterates. But the literacy rate has been moving up rapidly, from 43.6 percent in 1981, to 52.2 percent in 1991, to 64.8 percent in 2001.

Draftfcb Ulka’s Cogito Consulting and Asterii Analytics recently undertook the task of projecting India’s macro-economic numbers through 2061, the year Ulka Advertising will celebrate its 100th birthday. Based on this analysis, India will achieve 100 percent literacy by the year 2031. Female literacy, which lags male literacy by more than 15 percentage points, is projected to catch up by 2021.

Literacy alone may not be enough to trace the intellectual growth prospects of a country. So the analysts looked at other educational parameters as well. Higher education enrollment of the 15-to-24 age group is just 15 percent in India today. This is expected to reach 45 percent by the year 2050, possibly exceeding the current U.S. numbers.

Why is education such an important measure of human development, especially in a less-developed country? Should we not focus our energies on food security, health care and basic amenities such as water and power?

Well, all those are important, but it has been found that education—especially education of girls—is the bedrock of development. It has innumerable positive implications, from improving infant mortality, child rearing, health and hygiene, to impacting voting patterns.

The greatest strength of the U.S. economy is its higher education system. Countries like India are trying to find a balance between a state-subsidized education system that is creaking at its seams and a free-market education system. It is highly likely that India will have to find its own solution, using a combination of technology and trained teaching staff. With two of the world’s great democracies collaborating on this, success is not too far into the future.

 

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