The momentum of India’s economic progress is both a matter of celebration and a matter of concern. India’s progress stands threatened by a number of factors that businesses and government must note and address. Primary amongst these are:
1. The growth of the middle class and its implications.
2. The need for higher standards of education and skill development.
3. Infrastructure improvement and the availability of information.
4. Food security, nutrition and the need to address the agricultural sector.
In each of these areas, technology can be called upon to play a critical role. It would be the role of an enabler that delivers equitable growth to all the players and actors involved.
The growth of the middle class and the need for better education are combined.
The growth of the middle class presents an opportunity from a business point of view, but a nightmare from a governance perspective. Depending on whom you count in the middle class, the number for India varies from 30 million to 300 million. In 2005, the World Bank estimated the group at 264 million. This constitutes the single largest group in the country – but its significance lies in its rapid growth. It is estimated that India’s middle class has the consumption equivalent of Ireland and is expected to grow three times in the next 15 years. This is good news. And businesses must prepare for the opportunity it presents. But the growth is going to bring inordinate pressure on the education system – and if the education system does not respond, the middle class will not be absorbed into the economy and will be unable to continue to contribute to the nation’s growth. This is a problem of inclusivity at a national level that calls for urgent attention.
How can technology help match the needs of the growing Indian economy? Can technology impart the competitive skills required at a low cost and make them available across society and across geography? The education is not just required so that India’s growth continues to be fueled, but also to ensure that the growing population shows reduced apathy towards the political system resulting in higher voter turnout. Participation in polity, ultimately, is the hallmark of a conscious nation, determined to write its own destiny.
Technology can not only ensure that the cost of education is lowered, by making course material, tuitions and other aspects easily available, but by also administering exams and tests and maintaining records of results in a manner that is transparent and dependable. Mobile technology can have a major role to play in reaching out to the geographically distributed population in an affordable manner. Technology also needs to bridge the language divide, as millions of Indians don’t know English, work should be done to promote learning in vernacular languages also.
Technology can also impart skills to teaching faculty to improve the standards of education and this is going to be a key area to address. After all, the backbone of education rests on the educators.
Food security, nutrition, agriculture and infrastructure improvement can also be combined.
`The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2008’ by the United Nations World Food Program estimates that India has more than 230 million undernourished people, which is 21 percent of the national population. The report also found rising levels of “food and nutrition insecurity”.
The question is how can Information and Communication Technology (ICT) be leveraged for inclusive growth? There is an urgent need to deliver better health services and information across the country, in order to achieve this. This means improving infrastructure on an urgent basis so that financial, health services, public services, etc. are delivered at affordable price points and packaged keeping in mind local needs, customs, cultures and languages.
Technology can help in the distribution of information and knowledge that is crucial to better crop production, storage and extracting market value for the agricultural community. Simple information such as the availability of water, power, weather forecasts and the trends in agricultural markets can help the farming community to respond better to the needs of the nation.
India has 50 million acres of irrigated land (second only to the US which has 609 million acres). Most parts of India have multiple crops, unlike the US where weather constraints allow just one crop. It is therefore important to respond quickly to changes in soil fertility etc. that impact crop production. This requires the ability to monitor the changes and to deliver data on a timely basis for suitable action. Innovative, affordable technology meant for emerging economies such as India can have a major role to play in improving the food security situation. ?