As a nation, we should be disappointed with our poor record in education. Four out of ten children in India are illiterate. It is worse for girls and in the backward northern states, where teachers are often absent schools lack the basic facilities, children are not motivated and they drop out. But there is a hopeful sign: there is tremendous thirst and pressure for education from below. In the past six years, literacy has risen from 52 to 67 per sent. This is a huge improvement, and if this tread continues, universal literacy is nor far behind. In some states responsibility for education is beginning to shift to the local panchayats, and this has brought more accountability. Madhya Pradesh and Andhra are leading the charge. It there is one thing that could secure our future, it is vigorous attention to building human capabilities.
The historical experience of how country after country went from poverty to prosperity over the last two hundred years suggests that the transformation in each case was generally driven by one sector, which became the engine of the economy. In Britain it was textiles; in the United States the industrial revolution was led by the railways. Timber and timber products were responsible for Sweden’s take-off; milk and dairy products did the same for Denmark. In today’s language, the nation’s competitive advantage emanates from its leading sector. India must define this leading sector, which will give it the competitive edge. The answer to this can be found, if we look at where India has made a huge difference.
Let us look at the non-resident Indians. These are the ones that got away and built for themselves a better life, good careers and often, fabulous wealth. This diaspora spanning two centuries, but largely, a rush that began in the 1960s, total an estimated 2 crore people worldwide. Together all these people account for an economic output of about 20,00,000 crores, almost the same as the gross domestic product of India. This global community is a living tribute to the quality of Indian mind & its enterprise. This also gives the answer to the question I posed. What is our leading sector. It is the Indian human capital.
If nature gave to the Middle East the gift of oil, and to Japan the sense of national devotion, to India it has given immense human intelligence and enterprising quality. Harnessing our human capital is our first duty. In today’s global economy a country’s status is determined by the share of brands that it commands and the share of brains that it uses. The economic reforms are a partial answer to this. When the government liberated the Internet from the monopoly of VSNL, it harnessed millions of young Indians minds. If it would open the trade in agriculture, it would harness millions of farmhands. The most powerful way to harness human capital is through education. The US, the Eurpean Union, and East Asia are all embarked on massive plans to accelerate the development of their human capital. Let us harness this human capital for national growth & prosperity.