By 2020, India will have the world’s largest working population-- 869 million -- but an IndiaSpend analysis of indicators on literacy, school enrolment, learning outcomes, and education spending across four states -- with 43.6 per cent of India's school-age population between the ages of 5 and 14 -- revealed that India is unprepared to educate and train its young population.
Overall, India's literacy rate has increased 8.66 percentage points to 74.04 per cent between 2001 and 2011, according to Census data, but wide variations exist across states.
The crisis in education is especially apparent in the four BIMARU states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh (MP), Rajasthan, and Uttar Pradesh (UP) -- with 445.1 million of India's 1.2 billion population and some of the lowest literacy rates in the country, according to Census 2011. Bihar had a literacy rate of 61.8 per cent, Rajasthan of 67.1 per cent, UP of 67.7 per cent and MP a rate of 70.6 per cent in 2011, lower than the all-India average of 74 per cent. Kerala has a literacy rate of 94 per cent, the highest in the country.
School outcomes are also lower in the four BIMARU states. In 2014-15, fewer students moved from grade V to grade VI in UP, with a transition rate of 79.1 per cent, when compared to Goa, with a transition rate of almost 100 per cent in 2014-15, according to data from the Unified District Information System for Education.
In MP, as few as 34.1 per cent of children in grade V could read a grade II text in 2014, compared to 75.2 per cent in the case of Himachal Pradesh, according to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2014. Similarly, in Rajasthan, 45.9 per cent of children in grade V could "at least" subtract, compared to 87.4 per cent in Mizoram.
Currently, only 2.5 per cent of school-age children between the ages of five and 14 live in the four states -- Kerala, Mizoram, Tripura, and Goa -- with the highest literacy in India, compared to 43.6 per cent in the four BIMARU states, according to Census 2011. Any reform in education in the BIMARU states would have the greatest impact on India.
Over the next century, 60 per cent of the population increase in India would come from the four states of MP, Bihar, UP and Rajasthan, while only 22 per cent would come from the more developed states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra, according to a 2003 study published in The Economic and Political Weekly.
UP and Bihar will have India's youngest populations over the next ten years, as IndiaSpend reported in September 2016, together accounting for 31 per cent of Indians between five and 14 years.
The productivity of India's young population would depend on how these states improve health, education and employment opportunities, according to a 2013 study published in Asia and Pacific Policy Studies.
Variations across states in India exist not only in literacy and enrollment but also in factors that might impact future enrollment and learning.
For instance, life expectancy at birth, one of the factors found to affect literacy in India, according to a 2005 World Bank study, varies across states.
For Maharashtra, the state with a literacy rate of 82.3 per cent in 2011, the projected life expectancy at birth for 2011-16 was 70.4 years, based on this report by the Population Reference Bureau. In comparison, MP, with a lower literacy rate of 70.6 per cent, also had a lower projected life expectancy at birth of 61.5 years for 2011-16.
School enrollment is affected by a number of factors including parent's education, wealth of a household, midday meals, infrastructure, and more.
Still, the BIMARU states spend less on education than their more literate counterparts. For instance, MP spends Rs 11,927 ($175) per student, while Tamil Nadu spends Rs 16,914 per student, the Economic and Political Weekly reported in September 2016. The per student spending, at Rs 5,298, in Bihar, is even lower.
Another important factor, parent's education, impacts school education, according to a 2001 paper published in the Review of Development Economics.
As many as 99.1 per cent mothers in Kerala -- the state with the highest literacy -- received schooling, compared to 30.3 per cent mothers in Rajasthan in 2014, according to the ASER - Trends Over Time report.
Further, factors such as wealth have a greater effect on enrollment in poorer states.
Overall, in India, children from affluent families are more likely to be enrolled in school than children from poor households, but this gap is greater in UP and Bihar than it is in Kerala, according to a 2001 study by Deon Filmer and Lant Pritchett, published in the journal Demography.
(In an arrangement with IndiaSpend.org, a data-driven, non-profit, public interest journalism platform. Khushboo Balani is a freelance writer based in Mumbai, with interest in development issues. The views expressed are strictly those of IndiaSpend.)