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Improving education in India

In a recent report published by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to coincide with the launch of the United Nations ‘International Year of Youth’ (August 2010 to August 2011), the authors highlight their growing concern over rising unemployment among the young.

81 million of the 620 million active young (aged 15-24) were unemployed at the end of 2009, the highest number ever. And youth unemployment was expected to increase, reaching 13.1 per cent in 2010, with perhaps a moderate decline in 2011 to 12.7 per cent. These trends are particularly worrying for developing economies, where 90 per cent of the world’s young people live.

The ILO report also notes that even where the young have some kind of work, in developing nations they are “more vulnerable to underemployment and poverty”. The report estimates that around 28 per cent of all young workers (152 million worldwide) survive in households earning less than 1.25 dollars per person each day. In India, this rate is much higher – 42 per cent of 15-24 year olds are ‘working poor’ (living in households with per-capita expenditure below 1.25 dollars a day).

Access to education in India is good. The country has 1.4 million schools and 98 per cent of homes are within walking distance of a school. Enrolment rates are also high. According to government statistics, over 90 per cent of children are enrolled in primary school. However, a quarter of students drop out by grade 5 and nearly half leave by grade 8. Education experts believe one reason for the high drop-out rates is the poor quality of the teaching, as many schools rely on unqualified staff. Spending on education in India is extremely low – only around 1.5 per cent of the country’s annual budget goes on education, a fraction compared to rates in developed countries. Some government ministers are lobbying for an increase to this spending.

Meanwhile, the billionaire founder of the Azim Premji Foundation (APF) recently declared he would be creating a new 2 billion dollar fund to improve education in India’s schools. Rather than financing more schools, Mr Premji’s fund will be used to train ‘education experts’ who can help raise standards across the country. The APF aims to create 2,000 graduates each year with specialist knowledge in teaching and education. These experts will work alongside the government in assessing the curriculum and examinations and how school teachers are trained. When announcing his new education fund in December, Mr Premji talked not only of raising the quality of education for the young of India, but about creating a “just, equitable, humane” society. Like so many working to educate children in developing countries, Mr Premji believes in helping to raise young people out of poverty and in the power of a good education to do this.

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