NEW DELHI – Three years ago, as I walked through the densely populated slums of Mumbai toward my new teaching job at a low-income school, India’s extreme educational inequities were starkly on display. Muddy water flowed alongside ramshackle homes, and the stench of garbage was overpowering. When I reached the dilapidated school building, students were trickling in for the day in their tattered uniforms. My dim, musty classroom was cluttered with old cupboards and creaking benches, leaving little room for the students themselves.
Despite this being an English-language school, it quickly became apparent that few teachers – and even fewer students – could speak much English at all. Indeed, most of my fourth-grade students were unable to recognize alphabets or perform simple addition.
The appalling state of India’s education system – in which 31% of students do not make it past primary school, and a mere 9% complete secondary school – seriously undermines the country’s hopes of becoming a global superpower. Yet little progress has been made in equipping young people to drive India’s future growth.
Nearly 40% of India’s citizens, almost 500 million people, are aged 13-35 – the world’s largest youth population. According to the International Labor Organization, the Indian workforce is set to grow by more than eight million annually over the coming decade, largely owing to young people entering the labor market. By some estimates, almost 25% of the global workforce will be Indian by 2025. But, in order to harness this demographic dividend, they must be given the skills and opportunities to become productive citizens.