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Education controls population PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 29 May 2019 04:53
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Yoga guru Ramdev’s call for the government to enact population control legislation that denies voting rights and government services to the third child of a couple is a red herring. It isn’t India’s population or the fertility rate trend (falling, across religions)—a bogey that is used to drum up fears of a demographic shift—that is the problem. It is the continued squandering of human development potential, thanks to a raft of bad/obsolete policies, that should concern policy-makers more. But, to answer the likes of Ramdev, India’s overall fertility rate fell from 2.68 in NFHS-3 (survey period 2003-05) to 2.18—close to the replacement rate of 2.1—in NFHS-4 (2015-16). The trend holds across religions, with the Muslim community showing the sharpest rate of decline, of 23%, while the fertility rates for Christians and Buddhists/neo-Buddhists have fallen below the replacement rate and that for Jains and Sikhs, already below the replacement rate in NFHS-3, has slid further. TV Mohandas Pai and Yash Baid use the NFHS data to show how strongly the decline is correlated with gains in literacy rate—literacy rates amongst Muslim males and females showed sharp increase from the NFHS-3 period, from 70.2% to 80.3% and from 49.5% to 64.2%, respectively. All religious groups show an increasing trend for literacy and a corresponding decrease in total fertility rate, except for Jains where fertility declined despite literacy rates falling for males and remaining unchanged for women (the literacy rate for this community is still quite high, clocking a tad above 97%). The southern states, with their better performance on education and economic development, clock lower fertility rates than, say, a Bihar or an Uttar Pradesh, though the rate of decline in the latter has been quite sharp.

Against the backdrop of the religiously-charged undercurrents sweeping India at the moment, the fertility data should help mend the divides that are being deepened by the fanning of unfounded fears and biases. Over the long term, the data makes it clear, investing in education, specifically women’s education, will help the country not only keep fertility from shooting past desired levels, but also realise a larger quantum of the human development potential. Pai and Baid had earlier argued that the government must encourage women’s participation in the labour force, which has fallen over the past couple of years. To that end, investing in women’s education is a must. With the march of artificial intelligence and machine-learning, the skilling/education challenges in the coming years will be vastly different from those in the past. Focusing on improving women’s education and employability will need policies that incentivise women in seeking higher education/skilling—discriminating against them for performing better than men, like some colleges in Bengaluru were planning to do in the name of balanced gender representation on campuses, is thus an anathema. One area where the government needs to work on improving women’s representation is the STEM fields—just 29% percent of engineering graduates are women. When it comes to engineering and science PhDs, women have a token presence. Apart from higher education, women must be encouraged for skills-training, textiles being a low-hanging fruit.

 

 

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