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Indian Express Editorial Analysis

6-February-2024

1. Demography and destiny

Topic: GS1 – Society – Population and associated issues.
This topic is relevant for both Prelims and Mains in the context of India’s demographic landscape, proposed policy changes, and their potential impacts.
Context:
  • Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, during the 2024 budget presentation, has proposed a committee to study India’s population growth, indicating a potential shift in the discourse from the aggressive population control measures of the past.
  • The announcement comes almost five decades after the controversial population control program in 1976.
More about the news: Demographic Landscape:
  • India, being the world’s most populous nation, is undergoing a significant demographic transition.
  • Fertility rates have steadily declined, signaling a shift in societal norms towards family planning.
  • Despite the demographic challenge, India has managed to integrate population growth with economic development.
  • However, adapting to the changes brought by this transformation remains a priority.
Anticipating 2047:
  • The workforce composition in 2047 is already determined, with a notable decrease in the younger population and an increase in the older working-age group.
  • Preparing the middle-aged workforce for the demands of a technologically-driven economy requires strategic investments in continuous skill development, emphasizing on-the-job training beyond formal education.
Regional Disparities:
  • Demographic changes will not be uniform across all states.
  • States with earlier fertility declines, like southern states, will experience more visible population aging.
  • The dependency burden on states traditionally considered demographic laggards, such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh, will play a crucial role.
  • The challenge lies in investing in these states to ensure the well-being of both the elderly and children.
Empowering Women in the Workforce:
  • As fertility declines, the burden of childcare for women diminishes. However, this freed-up time has not translated into increased women’s workforce participation.
  • Creating a welcoming labor market for women is crucial.
  • Improving childcare availability, possibly through innovative combinations of existing schemes, can turn the demographic dividend into a gender dividend.
Sustaining the Elderly Population:
  • With a rising number of elderly individuals and a declining number of children to care for them, policies need to enhance the self-sustainability of the older population.
  • This could involve increasing the retirement age, improving pension schemes, and facilitating the sale of land or homes owned by the elderly.
Learning from Global Experiences:
  • The discourse on population control in India has historically been dominated by fears of explosion.
  • Learning from China’s experiences, where aggressive one-child policies led to economic challenges, suggests that India should refrain from panicked reactions and allow fertility decline to occur naturally.
Multifaceted Challenges:
  • Addressing these complex challenges requires a collaborative effort from demographers, economists, sociologists, and public policy experts.
  • The proposed high-powered committee, in conjunction with the 16th Finance Commission, aims to evaluate the challenges posed by demographic transformation and guide government spending priorities.
  • This approach reflects a nuanced understanding of the demographic shift, moving away from past coercive measures toward adapting with grace.
What is the Significance of Population Growth?
Better Human Capital:
  • A larger population is perceived to mean greater human capital, higher economic growth and improved standards of living.
  • However, if not managed properly it can also lead to war, internal conflicts, and rupture social fabric.
Better economic growth:
  • Better economic growth is brought about by increased economic activities due to higher working age population and lower dependent population.
High Working Age Population:
  • In the last seven decades, the share of the working age population has grown from 50% to 65%.
  • This has resulted in a decline in the dependency ratio (number of children and elderly persons per working age population).
  • In the next 25 years, one in five working-age group persons will be living in India.
PYQ: Critically examine whether growing population is the cause of poverty OR poverty is the main cause of population increase in India. (200 words/12.5m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-1 2015)
Practice Question: Examine the challenges and opportunities associated with demographic transformation and suggest policy measures to ensure a balanced and sustainable demographic future for the country.(250 words/15 m)

2. Gated communities of mind

Topic: GS2 – Social Justice – Education
The article discusses a crucial social issue – the state of education in India..
Context:
  • The article delves into the challenges faced by the education system in India, emphasizing the need for inclusive and effective schooling for all citizens.
  • It critiques existing policies, particularly the National Education Policy, and discusses the implications of digital learning.
  • The article underscores the importance of addressing grassroots issues, teacher shortages, and the digital divide.
  •  It connects with broader themes of social issues, policy-making, and inclusive growth, making it relevant for UPSC aspirants preparing for the Civil Services Examination.
More about the news: The Fallacy of Selective Development:
  • Experts advocate for selective development, emphasizing overinvestment in a few institutions to enhance their global rankings.
  • However, this approach raises doubts about the effectiveness of creating isolated centers of excellence without addressing the broader educational landscape.
  • The “percolation theory” is criticized, highlighting the gated community nature of this meritocracy.
Contrasting Strategies with China:
  • While the experts commend China’s strategy for high university rankings, the analysis suggests that India should focus on improving effective school education for its entire population.
  • China’s success in global university rankings is attributed to its widespread access to quality schooling, a feature notably absent in India, as corroborated by the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER).
Challenges at the School Level:
  • The article questions the feasibility of selective upgrading even at the school level, emphasizing that the existence of a large, exclusive, and well-funded private sector has not led to widespread educational reform.
  • The National Education Policy’s emphasis on meaningful school education for all is criticized for not effectively addressing the challenges at the grassroots level.
Flaws in Competitive Examinations:
  • The critique extends to competitive examinations like JEE and NEET, which result in a concentration of candidates vying for limited seats in a handful of institutions.
  • The suggestion is made to increase the number of institutions to accommodate a larger pool of aspirants, fostering a more balanced and inclusive model.
Ignoring the Imperative Role of School Education:
  • The article asserts that India has consistently ignored the crucial role of meaningful school education for all.
  • The deficiencies in the proposed PM-Shri schools, shortage of teachers, and the acceptance that not all children need full-time schooling are cited as indicators of a flawed approach.
Digital Learning Challenges:
  • While acknowledging the benefits of digital learning, the analysis warns against considering it a panacea.
  • The computer is deemed not a magic wand, and the overreliance on digitization is critiqued for compromising the development of connected thought in students.
  • The dangers of children growing up without basic literacy and numeracy due to online learning are highlighted.
The Issue of Digital Access:
  • Digital access becomes a focal point, with skepticism raised about the claimed percentage of students availing online classes during the pandemic.
  • Concerns about smartphone sharing, poor connectivity, and the inadequacy of smartphones as learning devices are emphasized, debunking the notion that the nation can educate its children through quick fixes and cost-cutting.
Conclusion:
  • The article concludes by emphasizing that no developed nation has achieved its status without effective school education for all citizens.
  • It underscores the need for capable teachers, adequate infrastructure, and digital support for all students at the school level, with the assurance that higher education will automatically fall into place when these fundamentals are in order.
  • The urgency to address this challenge is highlighted, calling for a departure from delaying tactics.
PYQ: National Education Policy 2020 is in conformity with the Sustainable Development Goal-4 (2030). It intends to restructure and reorient education system in India. Critically examine the statement. (250 words/15m) (UPSC CSE (M) GS-2 2020)
Practice Question:  Evaluate the role of effective school education in shaping a robust higher education system and the impact of existing challenges on the country’s socio-economic ambitions. (250 words/15 m)

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