Window Seat | Mrinal Chatterjee: Population and Education

28 Oct

By this month end world population will touch 700 crores. It was around 250 crores in 1950 and around 600 crores at the turn of the century.

There are two ways to look at the population: as a liability or resource. In other words one can look at the mouths to feed and bodies to provide clothing and shelter; or at the hands which can work and heads which can think. To consider the population as valuable resources- it must contribute to wealth generation. For that it must have education. Research proves that there is a synergic relationship of education with population growth in poor and developing countries: rise in education leads to decrease in the rate of population growth.
There are two important findings of the 2011 Census report of India: First, the population growth rate has fallen, and, second, the literacy rate has risen. In the past decade we grew at 17.64 per cent – much less than the growth rate of 21.64 per cent in 2001. But most important, we became more literate. The average literacy rate went up from 64.83% in 2001 to 74.04% in 2011 -an increase of 9.21%.

Interestingly, female literacy level saw a significant jump from 53% to 65%. A further rise in literacy rate, especially female literacy and a qualitative improvement in education will definitely help contain the population growth rate.
However, we cannot wait for that to happen on its own. India cannot afford that, especially looking at the fact that over 65 per cent of our population is within 35 years of age. Excessive population growth will counter balance the economic gains and create further socio-economic inequality as it is common knowledge that by and large poor people have larger family.

Therefore, India must take bold steps to change fertility patterns. However, being a democratic country it cannot coerce people to limit their family size, the way China can do and is doing. So the best way of achieving this is to adopt a strong program of population education to convince young people to have small families out of a concern for the threat to the quality of life posed by excessive population.

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