Monday, June 24, 2024

Our bedrock

As per the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA), the population paths of India and China into the 21st century were charted by their experiences half a century ago when they had nearly identical levels of fertility in 1971. However, China’s fertility rate fell by half to three births per woman by the end of the 1970s. The decline became gradual and continued into the 1980s and 1990s. By 2022, China had one of the world’s lowest fertility rates, which were 1.2 births per woman on average over a lifetime. In contrast, it took India more than three decades for its fertility rate to reach the level of China’s in the 1970s. India’s current fertility rate of two births per woman is just below the replacement threshold of 2.1, the level required for population stabilisation in the long run in the absence of migration, according to the UN report. There are the rough numbers that contours India’s climb to the top of the population tree. As extensively highlighted in various platforms, the population surge is a double-edged sword. The dangers notwithstanding, India is now teeming with a youthful population and stands on the cusp of transformative change. Its youth, comprising a significant demographic, possess the power to shape the country’s destiny. As we traverse the challenging terrain of the 21st century, it becomes imperative to address the burning issues that directly impact the youth. From education and employment to mental health and societal progress, it is time to harness their potential and provide them with the opportunities they deserve. Education forms the bedrock of any thriving nation, and India’s youth hunger for quality and tailored education that equips them with skills relevant and necessary for survival in this age. While considerable strides have been made, access to education remains a challenge in many parts of the country. Addressing this disparity is crucial to creating an inclusive society that empowers every young individual. Additionally, curriculum reforms can ensure that the youth are well-prepared to meet the demands of a rapidly evolving job market. Unemployment continues to plague the country. Encouraging entrepreneurship, fostering innovation and creating an environment conducive to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can generate job opportunities and empower the youth to become job creators. Collaborative efforts between Government, academia and industry can bridge the gap between skills and employability, ensuring a smooth transition into the workforce. The pressures of academic performance, societal expectations and career uncertainties take a toll on mental well-being. It is imperative that we recognise mental health as a priority and invest in accessible, affordable and comprehensive mental health services. Educational institutions must incorporate mental health support systems, while awareness campaigns need to be undertaken to address the stigma surrounding mental health issues. A progressive society thrives on inclusivity and equal opportunities for all. Gender bias and discrimination persist, hindering the progress of young women in various spheres. By providing equal access to education, career opportunities and leadership roles, we can empower young women to become trailblazers and catalysts of change. Additionally, fostering an environment that celebrates diversity in terms of ethnicity, religion and socio-economic backgrounds will harness the true potential of the youth and forge a more harmonious nation. More importantly, we should recognise that the youth are the digital natives of the 21st century and technology plays a pivotal role in their lives. Embracing the digital revolution is crucial as it can bridge the urban-rural divide, expand access to education, and fuel entrepreneurship. However, it is equally important to ensure digital literacy for all, particularly those from marginalised communities. Policies and initiatives should focus on enhancing digital infrastructure, promoting cyber security and nurturing a culture of responsible and ethical technology usage. By focusing on education, employment, mental health, inclusivity and technology, we can create a society where every young individual can thrive. Built on the pillars of their aspirations and achievements, we can harness the power of the youth and pave the way for a prosperous and equitable nation.