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Ensuring young people in India have the skills they need

More than a quarter of young people in South and West Asia lack important skills, often because they fail to complete primary school.

This is the conclusion of the latest global monitoring report just published by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO). In the report, entitled ‘Youth and skills: Putting education to work’, UNESCO says it is vital countries in Asia invest in better education, because the region has the greatest number of unskilled young people in the world.

Significant progress in enrolling children in school has been made, particularly in a country like India. The authors of the report acknowledge that here, a “dramatic” reduction in the number of out-of-school children has been achieved. In 1999, over 20 million primary-aged children in India were not in school, but by 2010 this number had dropped to 2.3 million.

Parents in India understand the importance of schooling. And where they can afford it, many Indians enrol their children in pre-school programmes, because these are seen as a way to give youngsters a head-start in literacy and numeracy skills. In the Andrah Pradesh state, for example, pre-school enrolment in rural areas is high among wealthy households, where almost one-third of children attend private nurseries. But even among the poorest households, children will often attend pre-school where places are offered free by state providers.

However, there is much progress still to make, particularly where children have had to drop out of their school education. Half of all children aged 15 to 19 in India complete secondary school, but the remainder often lack essential skills. Speaking to IRIN, UNESCO’s Director General talked about how the issue wasn’t only making sure children attended school, but also that young people were given skills which allowed them “opportunities to find decent work, earn a living [and] contribute to their communities and societies”. And for countries like India, which want to fully realise the potential of their large young population, the Director General said it is essential such nations “nurture the workforce they need to grow in the global economy.”

One young man in India is quoted in the UNESCO report as saying that without a proper education “we don’t get jobs and can’t improve our life. There is no growth for us.” If India wants its economy to continue flourishing, the country cannot afford to leave young people like this behind.

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