Tapping on the potential of the youth

Source:  The Hindu

Relevance: This article explains the challenges in reaping the benefit of demographic dividend.

Synopsis: India needs to focus on safeguarding young people’s well-being because India’s welfare is dependent on them.

  • World Population Day is marked on July 11 every year to focus attention on the importance of population-related issues.
  • It was first observed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in 1989.
  • It aims to promote sustainable ways to safeguard each life.
  • As per UNDP report and the Lancet, India will stabilize its population 12 years earlier than expected.

Therefore, India has lesser time to leverage the ‘demographic dividend’.

Why India needs to focus on demographic dividend?
  • Firstly, India’s ‘demographic dividend’ represents the potential for economic growth. However, transforming this potential into reality requires adolescents and youth to be healthy and well-educated.
    • At 253 million, India’s adolescent population is among the largest.
    • The median age of the population is less than 30 years.
  • Secondly, India’s underfunded education system is inadequately equipped to provide the skills to young people.
    • According to the World Bank, public expenditure on education constituted 4.4% of GDP in 2019 and only 3.4% of GDP in 2020.
    • India stands 62nd in terms of public expenditure per student, and fares badly in quality of education measures such as student-teacher ratios.
  • Thirdly, COVID-19 has worsened the state of education. School closures have a serious impact on the lives and mental well-being of children.
    • In India, more than 32 crore students have been affected by the nationwide lockdown due to COVID-19.
    • Of these, about 15.8 crores are female. Many of those who have dropped out are unlikely to go back to school.
  • Fourth, the impact of the pandemic on adolescents has been severe, especially the mental well-being.
    • 17% of young people likely to be suffered from anxiety and depression.
  • Lastly, increased poverty levels during the pandemic may result in early marriages of girls in India and gender violence.
    • Child marriage as a strategy to address household poverty has been noted in India in general.
    • Adolescent girls are at high risk, given their vulnerability to abuse and trafficking, especially if primary caregivers fall ill or die.
What needs to be done?
  • Allow a decentralised approach where district-level officials may reopen schools in a phased manner based on local COVID-19 transmission rates.
    • In Odisha, for example, community schools have re-opened in some areas.
    • Prioritising the vaccination of teachers and school support staff with a mix of online and offline
  • Collaborative actions and better inter-sectoral collaboration by key ministries, government agencies, and civil society are needed.
    • The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare must collaborate with the Education Ministry to disseminate key information to help adolescents safeguard their health and ability to learn.
    • Teachers can work as volunteers to collaborate with frontline health workers to distribute sanitary napkins to girls.
    • The Health and Education Ministries should strengthen outreach via existing helplines and by enabling conversations on critical issues regarding reproductive and sexual health.
  • Improved nutrition benefits learning.
    • It provides an incentive for parents to send their children to school on the assurance of one nutritious meal.
  • Need to learn from East Asia’s economic miracle of 1965-1990.
    • East Asian countries developed social, economic, and political institutions and policies that allowed them to realise the growth potential created by the transition.

That is why India needs to generate a virtuous cycle with healthier and educated young adults contributing to secure India’s future.


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