India, which is home to more young people than any other country, is running out of time to harness the potential of its youth to drive economic growth.
The nation’s population in the under-19 age group has already peaked, government data show. That means the labor force will grow more slowly from here on out. In just over 20 years, India will be an aging society, similar to where China is now, according to the Economic Survey published by the Finance Ministry earlier this month.
With those risks looming, India isn’t doing enough to revamp its education system to prepare the youth for better-paying, high-skilled jobs, going by a recent World Bank report. The world’s sixth-biggest economy, and until recently the fastest-growing major one, is ranked 115 out of 157 countries in the Human Capital Index, which measures the investment in education and health care for young people.
Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman’s budget this month allocated 3.4% of total annual spending to the ministry in charge of education, little changed from the last few years and down from 3.8% in 2015. The government’s own review of public schools says “it is common knowledge” that the country’s education system suffers from a shortage of teachers and staff, poor teacher training and delays in receiving funds.
That’s among reasons why the country faces the apparent paradox of high unemployment and talent shortages at the same time. It also risks leaving the nation far behind China, currently the world’s most populous nation, in the race to get rich before it gets old.
“India is not taking advantage of its demographic dividend,” said Satyaki Roy, an associate professor at the Institute for Studies in Industrial Development in New Delhi. “If you see the story of South Korea, Taiwan and other East Asian countries, there was a concerted effort by those governments to create the kind of human capital required for industry.”