Unleashing India’s human capital – Asia Times

Unleashing India's human capital - Asia Times

India’s demographic landscape stands as a strategic advantage, characterized by a substantial working-age population (15-64 years old). Projections for 2030 envisage an impressive 1.04 billion individuals within this critical demographic, promising a favorable low dependency ratio.

This demographic dividend, however, is time-sensitive, necessitating swift and informed policy implementation to harness its potential fully.

India’s education ecosystem is central to unlocking this demographic dividend, with about one-fourth of the population falling within the age group actively engaged in educational pursuits.

To meet evolving skill requirements and foster innovation, the focus must shift from enrollment figures to the quality of education. A dynamic, globalized, and sustainable skill set, essential for navigating contemporary complexities, hinges on a foundation of high-quality education.

Interconnected goals

In this context, UN Sustainable Development Goal 4, which emphasizes quality education, emerges as a linchpin in advancing human capital in India. Acknowledged as a critical driver of economic advancement, SDG 4 significantly contributes to sustainable development and plays a crucial role in unlocking India’s economic potential.

By prioritizing human-capital development, SDG 4 aims to achieve universal education from preschool to secondary levels, ensuring a 100% gross enrollment ratio (GER) in schools.

The broader spectrum of Sustainable Development Goals 1-6 collectively forms a comprehensive strategy for enhancing human capital within the framework of sustainable development. These interconnected goals not only align with the broader SDG framework but also underscore the pivotal role of youth capital in India.

The involvement of young people in SDG processes is recognized at the highest levels, highlighting the importance of dynamic representation and inclusivity for successful SDG implementation.

Human-Capital-Inducing SDGs Key Youth-Impacting Indicators
SDG 1 (No Poverty) aims to “eradicate poverty in all its forms around the world.” Progress was dampened in 2019-21 by the Covid-19 pandemic. There are a variety of youth-impacting indicators for the “no poverty” goal, such as “employed population living under the international poverty line, by sex and age”; “proportion of the population living below the national poverty line”; and “proportion of population living in households with access to basic services.”  
SDG 2 (Zero Hunger), that is, “end hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture,” aims to ensure access by all people, particularly those who are poor and in vulnerable situations, including infants, to safe, nutritious, and sufficient food throughout the year. Youth-centric indicators include “prevalence of moderate to severe food insecurity in the population”; “prevalence of stunting among children under the age of five”; and “prevalence of anemia in women aged 15 to 49 years, based on pregnancy.”
SDG 3 (Good Health and Well-being) aims to “ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all at all ages.” The indicators that affect the youth population include maternal mortality ratio; neonatal mortality rate; number of HIV-positive cases; and mortality rate attributed to cardiovascular diseases.  
SDG 4 (Quality Education) aims to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all.”   The available youth-related indicators measure proportion of children and young people that achieve a minimum proficiency in reading and mathematics, by sex, participation rate of youth and adults in formal and non-formal education and training in the past 12 months, completion rate by sex, location wealth quintile and education level in percentage.  
SDG 5 (Gender Equality) aims to “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.” The youth measures cover indicators such as proportion of ever-partnered women and girls above 15 subjected to physical, sexual or mental violence, proportion of women aged 20-24 years who were in a union before the age 15 or 18.  
SDG 6 (Clean Water and Sanitation) intends to “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.” The indicators that affect the youth include proportion of domestic and industrial wastewater flows safely treated, change in water-use efficiency over time, and degree of integrated water resource management.  
SDG indicators with direct impacts on the youth population. Source: Authors’ own, data from UN Youth SDG Dashboard.

Strategic priorities

Investing in SDGs, particularly in education and health, is paramount for harnessing the potential of India’s youth population. This strategic investment contributes to sustainable development by addressing economic, social, and environmental aspects, emphasizing the interconnectedness of these crucial elements.

Emphasizing the importance of skilling and quality education aligns seamlessly with the broader agenda of human-capital enhancement within the framework of sustainable development. Nurturing a workforce adept at navigating the ever-changing landscape of expertise is instrumental in ensuring long-term economic resilience.

For a developing nation like India, education emerges as a fundamental tool for creating the human capital necessary to sustain development in the 21st century. While significant progress has been made in enrolling children in schools, the focus must shift toward ensuring a quality education.

In times of scarce budget outlays for implementing the SDGs, optimizing financial resources toward educational infrastructure is of utmost importance. The quest for sustainable and inclusive development in India relies heavily on recognizing the transformative power of education and strategically directing resources to bolster the nation’s human capital.