Despite the high incidence of unemployment and hiatus between existing education standards and demands from the workplace, the youth of India are largely content with existing avenues of expression.
In the 19th century, the urbane bourgeoisie imposed the reading habit on their progeny thinking that from the stories of Homer and Virgil flowed life-sustaining morality and resolutions. Much the same governed parents’ views throughout the 20th century as well, although the expanse of literature was widened to include contemporary fiction.
These days, however, fighting off the competing attractions of video games, the internet, movies and, of course, TV, parents are happy if their children read anything at all.
This is indeed ironic, according to a research conducted by a group of three scientists at the University of Toronto, Canada, in 2008 which held conclusive scientific evidence that fiction, generally described as ‘light reading’ in India, certainly delivers great psychological benefits. It’s a kind of stimulation of the social world, according to Dr Keith Oatley, the leader of the research team.
His research showed that reading fiction makes people understand and empathise with the dilemmas fictional characters face, helping them to ‘understand the complexities of social life’.
Similarly, scientific temper can be instilled better if science is ‘marinated’ in story form to young children. The mystery novel encourages the development of logic and reasoning — or deductive — skills. And so on.
The consciousness that a generally aware youthful population, equipped with the mental faculties to grasp the nuances of their traditions lies at the core of the urge to reap the demographic dividend of India. We are a mosaic of societies caught in the crossfire of history and modernity, and to surge forward to industrial-age efficiency, we need lateral competitive ability rather than the small, elitist segment to which it is presently restricted.
It is well known that the fast growth in the number of the literate youth — 2.49% annually between 2001 and 2009 — is higher than the overall population increase (2.08%). But the sense of achievement in this dissipates fast when we find from the National Youth Readership Survey (NYRS), 2009, that more than half the 333 million literate youth (2009) drop out of the education system at age 15.
It is an uncomfortable, yet unavoidable, truth that the pool of youth on whom we must largely depend in the coming decades is still the urban — 59% of graduates, 69% of post-graduates and 86% of professional degree-holders — with social roots restricted to the old privilegocracy — 71% of youngsters with professional degrees are children of salaried and self-employed parents. The net figure for youth readers is 83 million out of atotal literate population of 333 million.
The thrust of our cultural planning should be to lure as many of this distillate youth population towards the reading habit. The odds stacked against reading are enormous, which when read in conjunction with the Toronto study ought to arouse government circles into concerted action to make good the opportunities of converting a sizeable section of this population into pleasure — or ‘light’ — readers.
I had, in these columns, suggested the need for reviving the library movement pioneered in the aftermath of Independence and strengthening of the book trade through reforms both at the government and private sector ends. NYRS 2009 data has clearly identified the strengths ingrain to this sector that needs highlighting.
There is no fear of the scientific temper losing out to irrationality. NYRS 2009 found that 25% of respondents (in a sample size of over 2,00,000) are ‘very much interested’ in the sciences, followed by 50% who were ‘fairly interested’.
It is indeed interesting that 75% of our literate youth population evinced some amount of interest in the sciences.
The highest degree (55.2%) of interest in medical research was seen among youngsters in the 20-24 age bracket.
Among all categories of youth, it was the students (60%) who showed maximum interest in this field, followed by the slightly older, ‘salaried’ and ‘unemployed’ segments (about 56% each). In thumbs-up to the printed word, it is seen that newspapers and magazines (31%) and books (12%) outdo TV (38%) as source of information on the wonders of medicine.
It’s truly a marvel that consciousness about global warming and the environment is not an urbane idiom any longer. An overwhelming proportion (67.4%) of Indian literate youth (67.4% regardless whether dropout or not) felt these are serious issues whereas just 7.4% said they were not.
About 80% of respondents recognised the threat to biodiversity as serious while 86.5% asserted the government must take serious steps to address the problems of the environment. The urban-rural gap, insofar as overall environmentalism is concerned, is quite slim actually.
For instance, while 73% of town youth felt for global warming, we have 64% of villagers with the same view. For biodiversity,we have 82% of city youngsters worried ,while the consciousness is as high as 77% for village-bredyoungsters.
Of the salutary effects of education is the ability to internalise one’s predicament. So, we see that despite the high incidence of unemployment and hiatus between existing education standards and demands from the workplace, the youth of India are largely content with existing avenues of expression ,i.e.,democraticoptions. In other words, they know how to cope with stress.
NYRS 2009 found that there are about two million graduates and half a million post-graduates unemployed in India, and what is most paradoxical is the enhanced connection (from 5.2% at matriculation to 9.3% at post-graduation) between higher education attainment and unemployment. Of the 134 million literate employed youngsters, the satisfaction (read: contentment) level is 58%.
In short, we have every reason to believe that the country’s youngsters have the mental breadth to deliver on the promise of the demographic dividend. The rest is up to the planners.
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