India’s demographic dividend, with about half a billion-strong workforce, has been touted a significant advantage by Prime Minister Modi. It is also an unprecedented challenge for him and the policy-makers. Why? Because this article uses an interesting acronym NEET (Not in Employment, Education or Training) which caught my attention. NEET is also India’s daunting, “National Eligibility cum Entrance Test” for medical schools. In fact, both NEETs have serious implications for India’s youth. We surmise that the youth in rural India faces more challenges than in urban areas.
Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The soul of India lives in its villages.” Is India’s soul being nourished and cared for as Gandhi ji may have meant and desired? There have been numerous programs for rural development but only limited progress due to widespread corruption for decades. With respect to more than 30% NEETs, I surmise that a large percentage of them are from rural areas and many are still stuck in the villages. Why?
To start with, the access to secondary education and beyond is limited in rural India and the quality is questionable. Generally, the children of educated and well to do parents, who value and can afford it, get educated. In that, fewer girls complete secondary education and beyond. Consequently, the education gap based on gender and between the haves and have-nots continues to widen. Therefore, many rural youths are at a greater risk to be among the NEETs.
The policy of promoting children from grade to grade in primary education, without due assessment of learning, leads to a whole generation of secondary students in the villages with shocking deficiency in language, math, and communication skills. These schools, and even colleges, across rural India have little focus on career guidance for the aspiring students. Ideas as simple as inviting alumni and/or professionals (in the community) to talk about careers in the classroom is absent in rural culture. The youth in a rural setting would not have heard how to compete for IIT or medical school, let alone today’s disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, automation, robotics, 3D printing, etc.
With very little guidance, they are left to swim or sink on their own for high stake tests such as NEET for medical school, IITs and IIMs. Their families can’t afford coaching. Thus, only a handful of youth from rural areas get in the top tier institutions. While there, they underperform due to weak foundation, lack of confidence, and poor communication skills. The funnel continues to shrink for the rural youth on the ladder of education.
Having had inadequate education and confidence, an average rural youth faces a steep and rough road for the second E (employment) although it is not much easier for youth in general. India produces far too many engineers and MBAs than the job opportunities. Their education lacks skills, such as team work, problem solving, practical hands-on learning, and internship opportunities making many ‘unemployable’. The lack of career guidance is limited in the lower tier institutions with large numbers from rural areas, leave students high and dry for competing for highly sought-after campus based placement interviews, if any.
What choices does the youth have? I wonder, if a silent social unrest is brewing by India’s youth. I am afraid that the parents of the unemployed and unemployables may join the agitation because they spent their life savings and/or borrowed for their sons/daughters’ education with high hopes but no dividends. Could it be a political suicide in the next parliamentary elections in 2019? In the meantime, the funnel lets only the ‘privileged’ through the employment pipe with the rural youth left behind.
The training constitutes skill building and/or vocational training for those who have not succeeded in the two Es. India’s National Skill Development (NSD) and Make in India – are aimed at providing skills and creating employment opportunities, respectively. In rural India, it is a chicken and egg problem; fewer industries requiring skilled workforce exist there and new industries are reluctant to come because they can’t find skilled workforce. The added issues include finding qualified trainers and the trainees who are ready, willing, and able to pay for training.
I think that today’s youth is often in denial that they need training and don’t understand that the NSD center is for training and not a placement agency, and they have unduly high aspirations for the first job with only half-baked formal education.
According to a 2015 report (Skill Development in India), there were about 12,000 Industrial Training Institutes (ITI) with a capacity for 1.7 million seats. I surmise that there are fewer ITIs in rural areas. At the risk of going on the limb, my observation of a rural ITI is that the infrastructure included bare walls without the trainees or trainer. The rural youth is reluctant to move to an urban setting without the income, and parents, with huge debt, are unwilling to support any more. The rural youth has resigned to a frustrating but comfortable life style of doing ‘nothing’.
The 2015 report cited that India will need about 110 million skilled workers by 2022 across 24 key sectors. However, the rural youth is not taking advantage; they lack motivation and self-confidence. Additionally, the lack of career guidance has come full circle with no one assuring them that the skill development and training offer potential for a well-paying opportunity. It is a vicious cycle in the life of typical rural youth. They are formally educated with a degree but skill-deficient, and are unwilling to be trained. Thus, a generation of NEETs has continued to grow unabated.
In conclusion, I assert that the limited access to quality education and the lack of career guidance are the root causes for more than 30%NEETs in modern India. The race to overtake China in population by 2024 will only exasperate the NEETs unless government increases spending with strong measures of accountability for quality education, skill building, and training. The institutions at all levels, private and government funded, also have a huge challenge and opportunity to impart relevant education with skills.
With the soul of India still living in the villages, the challenge for India in 2018 and beyond is to listen to the ‘Youth Ki Awaaz,’ and create jobs, jobs, and more jobs before the young NEETs resort to a social upheaval and challenge the ‘soul’ of the nation.