Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Friday said that a well educated population, adequately equipped with knowledge and skills, is a precondition for sustained economic growth. The expansion of educational opportunities at all levels (from elementary to higher education) has contributed to accelerate economic growth by creating a more productive labour force endowed with enhanced knowledge and skills and promoting and encouraging modern attitudes among all the diverse segments of population, he said. In his inaugural address on the occasion of 17th Annual Conference of the Indian Association of Social Sciences Institutions (IASSI), he said education is well recognised as an instrument of fast economic development and is key to the achievement of social and economic transformation.
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IASSI is a federal body of universities and research Institutions in India founded by Tarlok Singh.
Education, and particularly higher education has drawn attention in recent times as never before, to the advent of a knowledge society in which knowledge is not just a means of cultural advancement or skill improvement, but knowledge as mover of technology and innovation, itself has become an industry providing lead to economic growth, the former prime minister said.
“The adoption of innovations and absorptions of new technologies depends on spread of education in general and science education in particular. The fast growing economies in the 21st century are going to be knowledge dominated and largely service economies,” he said.
According to NSS surveys, the percentage of workforce engaged in agriculture in 1999-2000 was 56.64 per cent which declined to 48.9 per cent in 2011-12, he said.
The religious, caste and class divisions can be overcome by an educated society endowed with values based on equality, liberty and fraternity, he said.
While noting the great economic progress India has made since the liberalisation of economy in 1991, he lamented that the benefits of this progress are not equitably distributed.
Although 67 per cent of India’s population live in the rural India but the percentage of rural students in the higher education is very low, he said, adding that there is dire need to improve infrastructure in rural schools.
Underlining the importance of higher education, the former prime minister said: “For a knowledge based society, the base of higher education has to be wide – wider the base, higher the peak.”
He also exhorted the government to achieve the long cherished target (since 1968) of spending 6 per cent of GDP on education through public funding.
While recognising the role played by ‘for profit’ private educational institutions, he cautioned against too much dependence on private providers which could lead to non-inclusive educational system.
Access to Information and Knowledge is the most important ingredient for quality of education and barring a few exceptions, quality of higher education in India leaves much to be desired, he said.
“Special attention has to be paid to the education of women if their participation in labour force is to go up,” he said.
If the country has to realize the full potentials of demographic dividend of our young population and to qualify for being a global power, it has no other option but to achieve high levels both in quality and quantity of education, he added.
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