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Looking Beyond

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There are mixed opinions about India’s ‘demographic dividend’. Some feel that the majority of the country’s youth are in poor health, lack the right kind of education or are totally uneducated, and that most of them are unemployable. They wonder if such a vast number of people should be considered an asset or a liability. On the other hand, there are others who feel that there are many life-skills that Indians learn as citizens of a democracy and a market economy, which if sufficiently tweaked at different levels with value-additions and properly managed, can actually deliver the dividend.

The arguments of both sides have merit. It is important to work from both ends towards the middle. Conventional economics must generate employment for the youth, while forward-looking entrepreneurs have to begin businesses based on the peculiar mix of skills that our society naturally generates. Progress has to be measured in terms of, both, quality of life and standard of living.

Many of the initiatives in this regard have to be taken by the government, particularly in the context of improving the quality of education and pro-actively funding sectors that will contribute most to change. On the other hand, everything cannot be mandated by the Establishment, simply because the possibilities of change are often visible to only a few in the beginning. As such, individuals at their level will have to be the change-makers in over a billion ways. Every citizen has an area of influence in which, by that person’s judgment, improvements can be made to way things are done. ‘Swacch Bharat’, for instance, is not the responsibility of the government, alone, but of every citizen in his or her own little way. Even children can contribute. The task of cleaning up India will not seem so enormous if it is broken down to small, manageable proportions. The same goes for other challenges, such as skilling the work force, creating an appropriate syllabus for schools that responds to changing circumstances, harnessing new technologies and adapting to transforming social mores. There can be no ‘universal’ solutions for this challenge and the initiative can only be taken at the micro-level.

What are the signals in this regard? Are the people, particularly the youth, upbeat about their future? Have they the requisite confidence in the system that will keep them for adopting extreme solutions, such as radical beliefs and otherwise ‘magical’ remedies? As of now, there is still reason to be optimistic, as the level of engagement at all levels is on the increase. Strong GDP growth is an important component of this, but also a fertile intellectual environment that is increasingly open to new ideas and opportunities. Society is less hide-bound and tied to outdated practices that hinder progress. The need for a scientific temperament is a strongly felt need and not just a slogan. All of this augurs well for the future.