India is a land of opportunities. By that I mean, that we have so much to accomplish, so much to get done, so much has been neglected for so long, that everywhere we look, we find things that need to be done. There is a veritable surfeit of opportunities and one has a hard time figuring out where to begin. The whole set of opportunities is overwhelming. More so because we have severe resource limitations. So much to do, and so little to do it with. Consequently, one has to prioritize the tasks. To my mind, one issue wins hands down when it comes to priority. It is education.
Education is the linchpin which holds the entire economic machinery together. It is so fundamental and basic that without an educated population, there is no conceivable way for an economy to prosper. Show me any economy that has ever done well, and I will show you that at its foundation is an educated population. I grant you that for short periods of time due to special circumstances, an economy may flourish without an educated workforce, such as an economy buoyed by a natural resource such as oil. But it is a hollow sort of an economy and cannot survive in the long run.
I will spare you the volumes that one can say about the benefits of education in the abstract. For now, let me concentrate on India’s development. We have things to get done, as I mentioned before. A short list would include a high-productivity agricultural sector, a robust manufacturing sector, modern infrastructure in terms of power, telecommunications, good roads, water, … The list goes on. All the components of that list would be what I call the ‘hardware’ necessary for economic development. But they are not sufficient until one includes the ‘software’ as well. The software is an educated workforce and without this software, all the hardware is of little use.
No one really doubts the benefits of education. It has to be done, for sure. But is there any compelling reason for us to put education at the top of the list, give it the highest priority, and sequence our national interests so that education gets first dibs on our limited resources? Yes, there is. Education has the highest return on investment and it has very strong forward and backward linkages to the rest of the economy.
Let’s see the effect of $10 billion spent on education. Much of that money will be spent on wages, especially wages to teachers. Wages are then spent on goods and services. Teachers will buy food and manufactures and services with their wages. Every sector of the economy will be affected by the infusion of money in the education sector. This is the multiplier effect of spending on education, and they are due to the backward linkages that education has with the rest of the economy. The forward linkages are those that are produced by the output of the educational sector. An educated workforce is more productive in all sectors. Educated farmers would be better able to figure out what to produce, how to produce, and how to best sell their production. So also, educated manufacturing workers will be more efficient because they will be better able to follow complex instructions. The list, as the saying goes, goes on.
If I were the dictator of India, say like Jawaharlal Nehru was, I would take at least 50% of our foreign reserves and use it to fund education. In 20 years, I would ensure that India was positioned to be a shining economy. This sort of spending will have immediate effects of course from the backward linkages. For instance, we have a large number of educated unemployed. They are not necessarily going to be great teachers. But they are educated enough to be able to help deliver the content required for education. As for content, create world class content and use the state of the art ICT tools to distribute the content. Use FM radios, TV, and even computers to distribute content. This will give a boost to the ICT sector. All the sectors that provide inputs for education will benefit from the backward linkages that are inherent in education.
Unfortunately, I am not the dictator of India. So we are at the mercy of the policy makers who presently hold the reins. Are they enlightened enough? Can they be enlightened? Is there a way of pounding some sense in their skulls at the very least? I don’t know. What do you think?