Do our netas, parties really care about education?

NIKHIL MORO writes from Mount Pleasant, Michigan: The for-profit education market is expanding, India may have more “IT professionals” than America in the next three years, and MIT’s Technology Review has just launched an Indian edition.

But India’s gloomy record in primary education remains a sore disappointment.

In five years, prime minister Manmohan Singh’s government “has not been able to give any direction to initiatives on quality,” and while “more students are showing up at primary schools… they aren’t necessarily learning.”

Singh has failed to keep the United Progressive Alliance’s 2004 election promise to increase education spending to 6 per cent of the GDP.  By 2008 the Singh government had only marginally hiked the spending to 3.5 per cent (from 3.23 per cent in 2000-01).

Appearing Wednesday on Jon Stewart’s faux news The Daily Show, Nandan Nilekani, author of Imagining India did not hold back. Big-eyed charm intact, Nilekani warned that India’s “lack of education” might turn out to be the “difference between demographic dividend and demographic disaster.”

Stewart ribbed him: “I welcome you as my new overlord!”

Put simply, India’s 700 million voters can hardly be an asset when they have little access to quality education, primary or higher. A failure of national competitiveness may be imminent.

Reports are already doing the rounds that India is “no match for China now” despite being “a young country in an ageing world.”

Nilekani, who connects entrepreneurship with technology, has earlier stressed the failure of public education by indicating that half of India’s urban children attend private schools.

What do the politicians think?

We cannot know, because neither the Congress nor the Bharatiya Janata Party has published a manifesto less than a month before the general elections.  They’ve been too busy contriving alliances.

Voters don’t seem concerned either.

Pre-election surveys give no indication that Indians consider education to be an election issue, even though reporters have enough time to debate perceived dangers of co-education–even as fellow “Indians are begging for American goods“.

Is ennui part of our national sanskaar, or what?

Photograph: courtesy Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images

Watch The Daily Show episode here: The Bill Gates of India

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