'Young Indians need better healthcare and education'

Heathcare and illiteracy are a major concern for Indians. Sanchayan Bhattacharjee scans through the results of a survey report that indentifies major hurdles the nation faces.

Much has been said about India’s demographic dividend. As per projections based on government data, the Indian population will have an average age of just 29 years in 2020, younger than both the United States of America and China. However, according to Bino Paul, professor, Tata Institute of Social Sciences, a significant amount of improvement in the education and health care sector is necessary to realise this demographic potential. “The question is whether we will have a young population with adequate capacity and ability to work in the near future,” he said. Paul was part of a panel discussion that deliberated upon the results of the ‘India4India’ survey conducted by Tata Capital which focused on identifying the major challenges faced by the country.

Basic healthcare and illiteracy emerged as the top issues concerning most of the 5000 respondents with both receiving almost 19 percent of the votes. While most men considered illiteracy as the major concern for India, women picked basic healthcare as the top most concern. “Recent government data clearly shows that there are still some districts in India with more than 50 per cent illiteracy,” said Paul while adding that this lack of education combined with lack of proper pre and post natal health care threatens the demographic potential of the country.

Apart from the fundamental reasons of illiteracy, Praveen Kadle, CEO, Tata Capital linked the problem of illiteracy to migration in urban areas. “Most of the children from these families do not have basic education. This often leads to class differences which then culminate into social unrest in society, especially metros,” he said. Paul agreed and mentioned that data from the 64th round of the latest National Sample Survey proves this link. “Most of the migrant class come to cities looking for better jobs, but since most of the available jobs are from the service sector, a certain level of skilling or education becomes mandatory,” he said. Basic healthcare emerged as the top most concern in South and West India since education systems are relatively better in these parts of the country. “Many hospitals do not provide quality healthcare and ones that do are not affordable to large sections of the population,” said Kadle.

In addition to the top two problems, food scarcity emerged as the next top concern for Indians. “Even today, a sizeable chunk of the population earns less than two dollars a day which is grossly inadequate to fulfil their basic needs,” said Paul. While the survey results echoed India’s poor Human Development Index (135), according to Kadle, the country’s economy suffers as a whole too. “Without addressing these basic problems, it will be difficult to have highly skilled manpower which is important for the country’s domestic and international growth,” he said. While speaking about food scarcity, Kadle linked the problem to the increasing import bill of the country and the need to become self sufficient. “It will help us address our Current Account Deficit too,” he added.

Child rights and women empowerment were the other problems which found significant mention in the survey results. Ultimately, both panellists agreed that growth, skilled manpower and education were interlined wherein one could not be achieved without the other two. “We must focus on GDP growth as well as improvement of HDI indices equally. Improvement in one may not always correspond to an improvement in the other,” signed off Paul.