More youth in India than rest of the world- Asset or liability?

New Delhi: It is a point that India’s new Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been stressing in his public addresses at various global fora- that what sets India apart is the massive proportion of its youth- relative to its population and compared to anywhere else in the world. And now the United Nations Population Fund’s (UNFPA) State of the World’s Population Report, released on Tuesday, 18 November, has confirmed that India does indeed have a larger proportion of youth population than the rest of the world. But is that potentially a strength, or weakness for India?

“Today’s record 1.8 billion young people present an enormous opportunity to transform the future,” UNFPA Executive Director, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehim, said in a statement. “Young people are the innovators, creators, builders and leaders of the future. But, he warned, they can transform the future only if they have skills, health, decision-making, and real choices in life.”

“The emergence of a large youth population of unprecedented size can have a profound effect on any country. Whether that effect is positive or negative depends largely on how well governments respond to young people’s needs and enable them to engage fully and meaningfully in civic and economic affairs,” the report says.

During his address to the joint session of the Australian Parliament on Monday, 17 November, India’s PM Narendra Modi made a specific reference to the youth of India. Calling them the agents of change, he said, “It is the energy of our youth- the 800 million people below the age of 35 - eager for change, willing to work for it - because, now they believe that it is possible. That they can make it happen. It is this force of transformation that we will unleash.” 

However, the optimism of the Prime Minister apart, the situation on the ground speaks of a somewhat different reality. One that bites. The Hindu reports that nearly 13 million young people enter the labour force every year, according to estimate of the Government of India. Simultaneously, 113 million people reported to the Census that they were seeking work.

Moreover, the young people entering the job market lack skills: less than three per cent of young people in high school received vocational education, official estimates show, and India’s higher education enrolment rate is just over 20 per cent. Added to the problem is the quality of that education.

Over half of the employers interviewed by McKinsey for a report on skill development in India reported that skills shortage was a leading reason for entry-level vacancies.

Meanwhile, over half the youth interviewed by them felt that their secondary schooling had not made them more employable. In a scathing observation, McKinsey concluded that “Employers, education providers, and youth live in parallel universes.”

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