India’s demographic dividend, in terms of one of the youngest populations in the world, is considered the driving force of its future economic growth. With over a million schools and thousands of universities, the Indian education sector is a highly capitalized space in the country and a critical way to harness this dividend. The market size of the education sector in India was estimated to grow to 225 billion U.S. dollars, with the ed-tech market expected to reach over 10 billion U.S. dollars by 2025.
Pre-school and K-12 education
The rising number of dual-income nuclear families, especially in urban areas, is leading to a growing demand for preschool (starting at the age of two onwards) and childcare services. In the rural areas, the Anganwadi Centers (AWCs) are the most common and publicly available facilities, supporting health and formal preschool education and daycare of children.
Although the majority of K12 schools are government-run or aided, parent groups from the middle and high-income groups are inclined towards private school education for their children. This demand is mainly driven by the neo-colonial perception of English as the medium of instruction, better infrastructure, and higher accountability from teachers as compared to government schools. However, this trend reversed post-Covid pandemic most likely due to financial difficulties faced by many families. The pandemic also witnessed the rise and spread of ed-tech platforms such as Byju’s in India. But, children in rural areas usually have low access to private schools and digital technology thereby creating an opportunity gap for economically weaker sections of society.
The study-abroad dream
At the level of higher education, government-supported Institutions of National Importance (INI) such as IITs, NITs, and AIIMs are known and recognized for producing highly skilled individuals. Despite some premium institutions, the number of Indian students going abroad for education has sporadically increased over the years. This may be attributed to better post-study work rights in some countries, more disposable incomes, availability of scholarships and financial aid, and the favorable reputation of foreign institutions amongst Indian employers. The high unemployment rate among educated Indians can also attributed as a key reason for studying and settling abroad.
National Education Policy: The way ahead?
To address some of the challenges faced by the education sector, the National Education Policy (NEP) was introduced in 2020. Although the Right to Education Act gives every child in the age group of six to fourteen a fundamental right to free and compulsory education, it was for the first time that early childhood care and education were brought under the formal schooling system as a part of NEP. It further emphasized the need for vocational education and skill development to tackle underemployment and enhance employability. The policy aims to promote language inclusivity by providing options for educating in mother tongues and digital inclusion through the introduction of pan-India public e-learning platforms. As the policy comes into effect during the financial year 2024, its success in bridging the socioeconomic disparities in education while enhancing the quality of education will be crucial in determining if India can reap its demographic dividend.
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