Secondary Education will Empower India in the 21st Century

April 13, 2016

Onno Ruhl and Toby Linden Hindustan Times

Examination season is stressful for both students and their families, and the stakes could hardly be higher. Within the next decade, India will be home to the world’s largest pool of human resources. How can India make the most of this opportunity?

In today’s global marketplace, where the demand for skills of greater complexity is on the rise, a good secondary education is a necessity. While earlier eight years of education might have been enough, now the minimum is 10 years. Today, however, less than half of India’s 15-year-olds — just 44% — complete Class 10.

If India is to build a globally competitive workforce, a larger share of its children must finish secondary education. Moreover, the emphasis on girls’ education should be maintained at the secondary level. India can certainly achieve this. Since 2001, it has brought record numbers of children into primary schools. And, in the last six years, some 10 million more have been enrolled in secondary education, with gender parity being achieved at both the primary and secondary level.

By 2017 the number of primary age children is expected to fall by 9 million, from 197 million now. As this happens, some resources can be shifted to the secondary level.

But while money can help upgrade infrastructure, imparting quality education will call for sustained effort. China, for example, has increased enrolment while also improving quality of education. Its success can be attributed to education reforms that transformed pedagogy and focused classroom activities on problem solving.

If India is to ramp up the quality of secondary education, its teachers will need to be trained to teach for the 21st century. Teaching methods will need to be upgraded and embedded within the system, and multimedia aids to learning be used to supplement classroom instruction. Board examinations and school assessments will need to move in tandem and assess students on their problem-solving skills, going far beyond today’s emphasis on testing their knowledge of the curriculum.

All schools will need to be staffed with an adequate number of teachers. Today, less than one in five secondary schools have teachers who can teach the core subjects of languages, mathematics, science and social science.

To raise the standards some states will need more support than others. Uttar Pradesh and Bihar are home to almost one-third of India’s secondary age population, but less than half of them are in school, compared with almost two-thirds in Tamil Nadu and Himachal Pradesh.

Building a nation’s human resources takes time, because unlike infrastructure which can come up quickly, human development calls for a lifetime of investments in health, nutrition and education. There is no time to lose as an educated, skilled, and talented population can be a country’s strongest asset in a rapidly changing world.

Onno Ruhl is World Bank country director for India and Toby Linden is lead education specialist, World Bank, New Delhi

This opinion piece was originally published in Hindustan Times on 13th April, 2016.