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#4350, 20 March 2014

Quality vs Quantity

The Demographic Dividend
D Suba Chandran
Director, IPCS

There have been a plethora of security studies in the recent years – strategizing everything – from environment to human security. The recent addition to this growing literature is on the demographic dividend – as an asset or liability, depending on the quality vs quantity debate.

Societies such as Japan and few in Europe are considered to be ageing societies. Thanks to the increased healthcare, life expectancy of people has substantially increased. On the other hand, thanks also to the population control measures and child strategies, there is a thinning down of population at the lower levels. If a pyramid has to be built on age groups counting from 1-10, 11-20 and so on, certain countries such as Japan will have an inverted pyramid – with more people on 50-90 groups, than in 01-20, and 21-50 groups. While the first considered as children, adolescents and teens, the second from 20-50 is considered to be carrying the bulk of work load, income earning and hard working.

In India, both at the national and sub-regional levels, the demographic pyramid will be bulkier in the middle level. Meaning, both at the national and regional levels, the population belonging to 20-50 is the biggest. Hence, India along with few other countries in South Asia are considered to have a demographic dividend.
If a classification has to be made further within India, central and north of India would have a substantial demographic dividend when compared to South India and the Northeast. Clearly, number wise, there is a demographic dividend. There is a substantial quantity in the middle sectors of the demographic pyramid.

There is a Youth Bulge in India. Undoubtedly. But the important question is whether this bulge is an asset or liability. How qualified is this bulge? Quantity – yes, but what about the quality?

The above question is important – both at the national and regional levels in India. We may have a youth bulge; but how qualified that bulge is to take us forward? What measures need to be undertaken at the State and Society levels, to ensure that the youth bulge remains an asset and not turn into a liability?

There have been discussions about “channelizing” the youth potential; this is essentially a negative approach with a condescending attitude towards the youth – as if they are misguided and taken wrong paths. In any given society, from US to Japan, there will always be a small section that despite all positive efforts and opportunities ends up unproductive and worse, at times even destructive. This will have to be taken as a given in any environment.

Do our youth need to be “channelized”? Or do they be provided with “right opportunities” and “level playing field”? If the youth have to choose their own destiny, instead of being condescending and attempting to channelize their energy, they should be provided with all the right ingredients and strong base, and be allowed to decide their own future.

Back to the original question: how to ensure that the youth bulge adds qualitative value and not just the numbers?

First and foremost, a strong system of education from the beginning, starting from class one – both in rural and urban areas has to be established. There is a big myth that the rural education is backward, while education system in the urban areas are advanced and better developed. When the focus is on quality education, it has to focus equally on both sectors – rural and urban.

And there has to be a partnership between the State and Society. While the State has to ensure that there is adequate infrastructure in place, the society will have to ensure that there is work culture, especially amongst the teachers. It is easier for the Society to blame the State for the failure in educational structure, and accuse the system for being corrupt and inefficient. While it may very well be true, the hard reality is, neither the educational bureaucracy nor the teachers have been chosen from another planet! They are very much a part of us, and from our own society. Teachers and members of the educational bureaucracies consist of our brothers, cousins, sisters, fathers and mothers.

Since teachers are considered in the line only after the mothers and fathers, they have a huge responsibility in ensuring that children are provided with right background and equipped with the required knowledge. This is where our school and college system of education has to keep itself current and updated. The parents, on their part have to “parent” the children. Many of modern day problems, especially related to youth in our part of the world would amplify the growing parental crisis. Parenting is just not paying fees to schools and providing with food and shelter. How many of our parents really know what our children are doing in the schools and outside?
The above focus on parents and teachers – are primarily due to their ability in being the primary agents of contribution and change amongst the youth. No other social institutions impacts positively as the parents and teachers do.

Besides the education, the second major area that needs to be addressed is the politicization of youth by leaders and groups. Youths have to be politically aware, but should not become a ploy in the hands of individuals and groups. Since they are our future, we should let them choose their own, and not impose our past and present on them. Some of them would ultimately choose politics, as their career; but in our warped and immediate needs, we should not allow politics to jeopardize their career.
Like to parent-teacher meetings in schools, there have to be a parent-political leader meeting in every community. It is ironic in many cases, the leaders would love to use the youth as their pawns, but will ensure their own children are well educated abroad, and earning in dollars and euros.

Finally, the State has to ensure, there is no negative environment that would seduce the youth from focusing on what they are supposed to – creating strong foundations for a future that they may want to choose. From drugs to terrorism, there are multiple evils, which the State will have to ensure that our youths do not fall prey to. The State will also have to ensure good governance.

True, there is a demographic dividend in India. It is in every one’s interest that this quantity becomes a quality and an asset. Every one of us at the State and Society levels have a responsibility in ensuring that our youth bulge does not become a liability.

They are our future. Let us protect their present.

By arrangement with Rising Kashmir

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