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Indian Education in the 21st Century

India is a rapidly changing country in which inclusive, high-quality education is of utmost importance for its future prosperity. The country is currently in a youth bulge phase. It has the largest youth population in the world—a veritable army of 600 million young people under the age of 25. Fully 28 percent of the population is less than 14 years of age, and with more than 30 babies being born every minute, population growth rates are expected to remain at around 1 percent for years. India is expected to overtake China as the largest country on earth by 2022 and grow to about 1.5 billion people by 2030 (up from 1.34 billion in 2017). The UN projects that Delhi will become the largest city in the world with 37 million people by 2028.

This demographic change could be a powerful engine of economic growth and development: If India manages to modernize and expand its education system, raise educational attainment levels, and provide skills to its youth, it could gain a significant competitive advantage over swiftly aging countries like China. Some analysts consequently argue that India will eventually economically close in on China, because of India’s greater propensity for entrepreneurial innovation, and it’s young, technically skilled, rapidly growing English-speaking workforce—which is projected to be in increased global demand as labor costs in China rise faster than in India.

Indeed, India is now the world’s fastest-growing major economy, outpacing China’s in terms of growth rates, even though it is still much smaller in overall size. Large parts of Indian society are simultaneously growing richer—the number of Indians in middle-income brackets is expected to increase almost 10-fold within just two decades, from 50 million people in 2010 to 475 million people in 2030. Some analysts now predict that India will become the second-largest economy in the world by 2050.

Constraints, challenges, and moving forward

Still a developing country of massive scale and home to the largest number of poor people in the world next to Nigeria. Consider that some 40 percent of India’s roads are still unpaved, while the country accounts for more than a quarter of all new tuberculosis infections worldwide—the disease kills more than 435,000 Indians each year. India also has one of the highest mortality rates among children under the age of five worldwide, as well as one of the worst sanitation systems: 524 million Indians did not use a toilet in 2017.

In light of such problems, it remains very much an open question whether India can harness its youth dividend to achieve inclusive economic development, or if it will become overburdened by population growth. As of now, India struggles to educate and employ its growing population: More than 27 percent of the country’s youth are excluded from secondary education, employment, or training, while the overwhelming majority of working Indians are employed in the informal sector, many of them in agriculture, often in precarious engagements lacking any form of job security or labor protections.

India’s higher education system, meanwhile, does not have the capacity to achieve enrollment ratios anywhere close to those of other middle-income economies. The country’s tertiary gross enrollment rate is growing fast, but remains more than 20 percentage points below that of China or Brazil, despite the creation of large numbers of higher education institutions (HEIs) in recent years.

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