The wealth of modern nations

first_imgThe wealth of nations today—as of individuals—is a direct function of human resource. Wealthy nations are wealthy because they have developed their human resources. Individuals are wealthy because they have developed their human resource. And how do modern nations develop their human resource? Very simple: by sending all their children to quality schools and educating them. Countries that have paid attention to educating their children are the richest countries in the world today. And vice-versa. Countries that have paid poor attention to educating children are today the poorest countries of the world. Also Read – A special kind of bondThere is a direct correlation between children’s education and the wealth of a modern nation. For education is the only sure path today to growth, development, and wealth. But there is something very unique about the way education can be imparted. Educating someone, anyone for that matter must always follow a linear path. No one can enter a University unless she or he has gone through high school. No one can get into a high school unless she or he has completed middle school. No one can get into middle school unless they first get into a primary school. Also Read – Insider threat managementAnd there lies India’s problem. We build IITs and IIMs and Medical, and Engineering Colleges (these days lavish private universities that could be mistaken for resorts) and provide fee subsidies and positive discrimination quotas for our poor and socially marginalised in these institutions of higher learning. Which is all very good. But we continue to ignore our schools, especially our primary schools, especially schools for the poor. The catch is that these subsidies and quotas for the poor in Universities, IITs, IIMs, Engineering and Medical Colleges are useless unless you can get into them. And you cannot get into them unless you get into a good primary school first, at the age of five or six. And to get admission into a decent primary school, a child’s parent must pay a huge fee, which poor parents just cannot afford. The poor have, therefore, to depend on government schools, which provides education of the poorest possible quality. Poor children do not stay in such schools long. They drop-out soon, far before they complete those 10 (let alone 12) years in school. Or more correctly, they are pushed out. The children of the poor are pushed out of such government schools through weak pedagogy, bad teachers and poor classrooms. Meanwhile, there is also a strong pull factor working drawing poor children out of schools. Unmindful of its harm, society, including the child’s own parents and their middle-class and lower-middle class and even upper crust employers and most social, political and administrative leaders do not discourage children of the poor from working. Indeed, they often actively encourage child labour. While diligently sending our own children to private schools paying high fees, we in India, the middle classes, and our social aristocrats and political and administrative leaders, actively discourage the children of the poor from going to schools, often rhetorically asking parents of deprived children, what use would they get through educating their children. The unstated answer being: nothing. Child labour prevents the education of children and depresses human capital of individuals and nations. Since education and human resource are linked indirectly to poverty and directly to wealth, an uneducated individual is also an individual in poverty, while an educated individual is usually a person above poverty. A simple experiment will prove this. Stand at any busy roadside junction anywhere and identify any 10 graduates. Nine out of the 10 would not be poor. Identify any 10 uneducated people. Nine out of the 10, would be poor. Try out a contrary survey. Survey 10 people who are poor. Nine of the 10 are likely to be uneducated. Finally, locate 10 people who are not poor. Nine of the 10 would be educated. This is a universal truth today! What is thus true of individuals is also true of nations. Rich nations of the world today are those that developed their human resource through quality school education, particularly primary education. Such wealthy nations would congruently also have severe laws against drop-out, truancy, and child labour. Poor nations of the world, on the contrary, are nations that pay no heed to school education. These nations have little focus on primary and school education and thus are unable to raise their human resource. They continue to be poor as the small percentage of their educated elite are unable to create enough wealth to keep the huge numbers of their uneducated out of poverty. Although changing slowly, India, unfortunately, still suffers from the same syndrome. There is a strongly held but unarticulated belief amongst us that good primary and school education is necessary only for us and our ilk; that scarce resources need not be spent on educating children of the poor; that educating such poor is a poor use of resources. There can be no more foolish thinking than that. In a country like India where we have a Peace Laureate who won the Nobel Prize for his fight against child labour, such thinking only makes for a sad and contradictory situation. So long as we do not educate all our children in the highest quality schools, making at least 10 or even 12 years of school education compulsory, and enact and implement strong truancy laws, and laws against erring employers, our potential as a 135-crore strong country cannot be achieved. Our uneducated will continue to be poor and keep the country poor. And imagine if we did. The country would be a storehouse of human resource and our economy would be booming. If China has a thriving economy today, it is because over three decades ago they decided to send all their children to schools and keep them there. China with a population of nearly 140 crores of mostly educated young people, the result 30 years later is there for all to see. Its growing human resource will soon enable it to overtake the US –with a much smaller 25-crore population, albeit educated and even though importing the best human resource from across the world–as the number one economy in the world. More proof is staring before our eyes. Small countries like Singapore, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, et al not to speak of the countries of Europe became economic giants by focusing on educating their children. And yet we do not see. It is time our Union Budget and our State Budgets exponentially increase our spending on good quality free compulsory school education, starting with primary schools and going up to high schools. Else, our demographic dividend of 135 crores will soon become a demographic demon. Indeed, poverty today is the handmaid of the uneducated, and wealth is the handmaid of the educated; whether of individuals or of nations. (The author is a former Indian and UN Civil Servant. He belongs to the 1978 batch of the IAS and worked with the ILO in India and abroad for 20 years. The views expressed are strictly personal)last_img

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