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How to create a trained workforce of 700 million people

India @60, growing at over 9 per cent, has missed not just scientists and engineers in the last couple of years. It has equally acutely felt the shortage of trained drivers, masons, carpenters, electricians and the like.

Print Edition: August 24, 2008

India @60, growing at over 9 per cent, has missed not just scientists and engineers in the last couple of years. It has equally acutely felt the shortage of trained drivers, masons, carpenters, electricians and the like. Tech entrepreneur Vivek Wadhwa, a Wertheim Fellow at Harvard Law School and executive-in-residence at Duke University who closely tracks the results of the Indian education system, believes that at present it is India’s unique surrogate education system that is making up for the deficiencies of the public education system. “All of the amazing success India has achieved has been with less than 10 per cent of its population—those that received satisfactory (not great) education. Imagine what could be achieved if India increased this to 30 per cent or 50 per cent or 90 per cent? It would unleash the massive potential of its population,” says Wadhwa.

The National Knowledge Commission (NKC), headed by Sam Pitroda, has given out detailed recommendations to fix areas ranging from libraries, vocational education to higher education to banish the talent crunch. For Prahalad’s vision of 200 million college graduates and 500 million certified and skilled technicians to come true, it is imperative that the education pipeline gets strengthened at the base.

Here the NKC very succinctly puts forth the case for school education: “more resources, more decentralisation and more flexibility.” Fixing this end of the pipeline can provide a booster shot to the economy in the long term.

At 3.8 per cent of GDP (around $8.6 billion this year), public spend on education is not just inadequate, but also mostly inefficient. Though the government promises to increase this to 6 per cent of GDP by 2012, the private sector will have to invest a lot more aggressively into education and training. A recent report pegged the market for private initiatives at a whopping $40 billion at present, and growing. Unsurprisingly, while school education (kindergarten to class 12) constitutes half of this opportunity, vocational education, too, forms a significant chunk—more than $1 billion already.

Adi Godrej, Chairman, Godrej Group prescribes the solution: “There is a shortage of all kinds of people in India except for the totally uneducated. The education sector should be completely opened up, and there should be an independent regulator for the sector.”

Shalini S. Dagar

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