Developing nations like India are trying to take a great leap forward in education to match their coming leap in population. Can they produce enough good thinkers to produce enough new jobs?
Benjamin Franklin enjoyed no familial boost of wealth, fame, or education. He was one of 17 kids. His father was a candle-maker. In today’s terms, he started life well within the 99 percent. But through systematic study, practice, thrift, and most of all an optimistic embrace of possibility, he rose to become the famed intellect, scientist, statesman, diplomat, and writer honored on currency, in statues, and by namesake institutes dedicated to higher education.
Everybody should be a Franklin. India needs up to 100 million Franklins.
The world’s most populous democracy has been growing at a healthy clip but a moment of truth is looming. In a mere eight years, 100 million more people – equivalent to the population of Mexico – will enter the Indian workforce. Vanishingly few of them will enjoy a familial boost of wealth, fame, or education.
In the old India, those 100 million would be a nightmare, a tsunami of humanity racing toward an overburdened infrastructure and social system. In the new India, they are possibly something else. It all depends on where they sit on the scale that runs from basic need to productivity to creativity. It all depends on what the magic of education can do for them.
Let me take you on a detour to explain why this is so important. In the late 1980s, I was on a reporting assignment in Japan, which at the time was considered an economic superpower in the way that China is today and India hopes to be. There was no doubt about the productivity of Japanese workers. The watchword at the time was kaizen, meaning “continuous improvement,” and Japanese workers seemed to make everything better – TVs, cars, Walkmans, fax machines.