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Adult Education and Lifelong Learning in Europe and Beyond

Comparative Perspectives from the 2015 Würzburg Winter School


Edited By Regina Egetenmeyer

This volume presents comparisons of adult education and lifelong learning with a focus on educational policies, professionalization in adult education, participation in adult learning and education, quality in adult education, and educational guidance and counselling. The essays are based on comparisons discussed at the international Winter School «Comparative Studies in Adult and Lifelong Learning», held in Würzburg, Germany, February 2015. Sub-topics of lifelong learning were chosen for an in-depth comparison and analysis of the situation in various European countries and beyond.
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India towards a knowledge economy: Alternatives for the global demographic challenge and inclusive development in India

← 236 | 237 →

Shalini Singh

India towards a knowledge economy: Alternatives for the global demographic challenge and inclusive development in India


This paper gives an overview of Lifelong Learning and Adult Education in India and India’s drive towards creating a niche in the emerging global knowledge economy. It presents the current picture of India in terms of the knowledge economy criteria provided by the World Bank. It also highlights India’s readiness to provide solutions for the demographic challenge in Europe and across the globe. The paper mentions the challenges that India is facing in its transition to a knowledge economy and outlines the opportunities and scope that international players have in the Indian market. The paper also highlights the fact that the transition to a knowledge economy should not comeat the cost of the starving millions who are waiting for a ‘trickle down’ to occur becausethe government has no other solution for them. International players can provide an inclusive model of sustainable development in India in return fora big market and huge pool of resources.This would be a win-win situation for all.


Poor Ganga Devi gets up every morning with no hope in her eyes. She is 60 years old with an annual household income of around Rs.3,000 in a small, unelectrified village called Jhawani in Assam in North-East India. With no one to look after, and no one to care for, her eyes are devoid of any dreams, and she keeps on carrying her life on her emaciated shoulders with tears in her eyes. Her two illiterate sons, along with their families, left her almost 10 years ago to work far away in Rajashtan, a state on the Western frontier of India, as they could not find any jobs nearby. The same story gets repeated every day, in thousands of villages, in endless numbers of households, all across the country.1 Facing the century’s largest rural-urban migration with more than 10 million people moving to urban areas every year from the ruralscarcity-ridden mess (Dahlman, Carl/ Utz Anuja, 2005), India confronts a lot of challenges in terms of housing these migrants in urban ← 237 | 238 → areas. In the absence of appropriate places to live, breed, grow, develop, and earn a respectable livelihood, millions are left behind in reckless poverty and hunger, with fewer options to live than to die in isolated villages of a ‘rising economic giant’. Can India’s move towards becoming a knowledge economy bring some hope to Ganga Devi’s eyes? Can it make the burden on her emaciated shoulders a little lighter? Can it bring home her long-gone sons? Can it bring a little hope to millions of households in India? Or is the advent of a heartless neo-liberal order likely to plunge millions more into another reckless ‘virtuous circle’ of profit generation and consumerism, this time in the name of ‘knowledge’? India is rising as an economic giant, ready to carve out a major share in the global economy.But will this come at the cost of more poverty, inequality, and underdevelopment back at home, or will a transition to a knowledge economy make India a better place to live for its starving millions?

An Overview of India

The job market in India is offering fewer and fewer opportunities for the average citizen getting wound up day by day to earn a livelihood. At a rapid pace, the great digital divide is engulfing those standing on the verge of poverty(cf. Kenston, K./ Kumar, D. (eds.), 2003). India is the world’s second-largest democracy and fourth-largest economy, inhabited by about 1.252 billion people (World Bank 2015). Its leapfrogging performance has raised a mixed reaction of concern as well hope among many advanced countries and its competitors that are looking desperately for new markets but fear competition. Most of the concerns are targeted at the largest and youngest workforce ever to emerge anywhere in the world in the past few centuries, with about 50 per cent of the total Indian population below the age of 25years and about 65 per cent below the age of 35, as per World Bank estimates for the year 2020 (World Bank 2015). According to a BBC report, the average age of an Indian by the year 2020 would be 29 years, which would push the dependency ratio2 to just about 0.4 per cent (cf. Basu, K. 2007).

In 2011, India registered a literacy rate of 74.04 per cent, with 82.14 per cent among males and 65.46 per cent among females. Kerela was the most literate state among all Indian states, with a literacy rate of 93.9 per cent, whereas Bihar was the most illiterate state, with a literacy rate of 63.08 per cent (Census of India 2011). The CIA World Fact Book ranked India at 177 out of 205 nations in terms of ← 238 | 239 → literacy (The World Fact Book 2012). With extreme socio-cultural and economic variation based on factors like caste, class, gender, vernaculars, and the like, India has to carve out a successful future for itself to drag its 400 million living in abject poverty (equivalent to one-third of the world’s poor) out of poverty and to ensure that other millions of people (about 53 million during 2005–10) who have recently escaped poverty do not fall back into its vicious circle (India Overview 2015).

Figure1: Literacy Scenario3 in India (author’s own based on 2011 Census).4

For this, India must mobilise all its potential to evolve into a kind of a system that can take care of its vast diversity and differences without widening the existing gap between them. Is becoming a ‘knowledge economy’ a viable answer to the challenges that India is facing today? Or will turning itself into a ‘knowledge economy’ push India into another, stronger structure of ‘pseudo-development’, where a handful of people have access to and ownership over a majority of resources while the masses suffer in scarcity and poverty? Should India be afraid of creating ← 239 | 240 → another great internal divide between the rich and the poor that might tear the economic giant apart, leaving behind, small fragmented markets to be captured and exploited? The answer lies in the alternatives that India will choose for itself in the next few years. However, before understanding whether and how India chooses to become a knowledge economy, we must define in clear terms what the concept of a knowledge economy means in the global and the Indian context.

The Knowledge Economy in the Indian Context

The concept of a knowledge economy, in the mainstream understanding, is not much different from the one popularised by Peter Drucker as the heading of the twelfth chapter of his book The Age of Discontinuity, in which he referred to the economist Fritz Machlup and the father of scientific management, F. W. Taylor, to trace the roots of the concept (cf. Drucker, P. 1968). To Drucker, a knowledge society (as he used and popularised the concept) was a society that uses knowledge as both a product and a productive asset (cf. Powell, W. W./ Snellman K. 2014). In 1942, an Austrian economist called Joseph Schumpeter identified innovation as a key factor in economic growth. Schumpeter referred to this process as ‘creative destruction’, explaining how the creation of new business opportunities leads to the destruction of old ones in a knowledge society (Schumpeter, J. A. 2014). Stanford professor Paul Romer came up with a new growth theory, which stated that innovation is the key to long-term growth and that people can innovate faster than diminishing returns (cf. Romer, P. M. 1986). The World Bank’s definition of a knowledge economy is not very different from all these interpretations and understandings. It describes a knowledge economy as one that ‘…creates, disseminates and uses knowledge to enhance its growth and competitiveness’. Further, it rests on four pillars:

  1. An economic and institutional regime that provides incentives for the efficient creation, dissemination, and use of existing knowledge.
  2. An educated and skilled population that can create and use knowledge.
  3. An efficient innovation system of firms, research centres, universities, consultants, and other organizations that can tap into the growing stock of global knowledge and assimilate and adapt it to local needs, as well as to create relevant new knowledge
  4. Dynamic information infrastructure that can facilitate the effective communication, dissemination, and processing of information. (Dahlman & Utz, 2005 p. 9). ← 240 | 241 →

Most definitions of the knowledge economy convey the same. They talk about a system in which knowledge is the predominant component of all the basic functions of an economy. Knowledge is produced to be sold in the market as a commodity; knowledge is consumed in the market as a commodity; knowledge is accumulated and reproduced; or knowledge-producing entities are accumulated as capital formation.5

Of the roughly 950 million illiterate adults across the globe, 600 million are women, and over one-third of the world’s total illiterate population comes from South Asia. According to the most recent data provided by UNESCO, 75 per cent of the world’s total illiterate population come from only nine countries, including India, China, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Indonesia, Iran, and Brazil (UNESCO Institute for Statistics 2012). Is it justified to ‘impose’ the meaning of the knowledge economy in countries like these, which do not share the context where the definition of the term originated? Probably, there is a need to widen the narrow definition of the knowledge economy somewhat.

In context of a country like India, integrating knowledge into the economic system as a factor of production and as a product may not be enough. In order to understand the role that knowledge should play in Indiawhile the country evolves into a knowledge economy, the trajectory of adult education and lifelong learning in the country must be understood.

The Roots of Lifelong Learning in India: Adult Education Initiatives

In India, the concept of Lifelong Learning emerged only recently, and none of the premier institutions are working dedicatedly in this field. However, adult education initiatives in the country are the roots from which this concept originated in India. The story of India in terms of adult education has not always been too splashed with the colours of hope. When India achieved independence, the colour of remorse and scarcity veiled the country more prominently. India has seen a long history of colonial subjugation and exploitation under the British Empire for 200 years. ← 241 | 242 →

The trajectory of adult education programmes in India can be classified into various stages or phases, which might be presented as follows:

The phase of indoctrination (colonial period)

During the colonial period (1502–1947), while the British were trying to take up their ‘white man’s burden’6 in India with the ‘healing touch of Christianity’, the first adult education programme in India was launched.7 A handful of British people carried a vision about the transformation of an uncivilised, backward mass of men and women through basic education. However, lack of finances and political will led to ‘downward filtration’, and the idea of adult education was forced to take a backseat (Pannickar, 2000, p.10). In the nineteenth and the twentieth centuries, India saw the rise of numerous reform movements led by social reformers who insisted on the need to educate the masses for the transformation of Indian society from a feudal orthodoxy to a liberal, humane, modern social order. They opposed the idea of restricting the education of women and lower castes in society and fought for introducing equal educational opportunities for all. The primary idea behind their efforts was to set education free from the clutches of casteism and orthodoxy and to unleash its power for widespread socio-economic change. For achieving their aim, it was important not only to disseminate education but to disseminate it in vernacular (cf Bhushan, 2002). The curriculum included the ‘three Rs’—reading, writing, and arithmetic8—along with a few stories of historical importance and basic lessons about health, hygiene, and first aid (Govt. of India 1940: 49). However, despite all serious efforts of socio-political reformers in India, adult education could not step out of the night schools and continued to advance at a very slow pace, primarily due to the contrary interest of the new middle class (Acharya, 1988:1124). ← 242 | 243 →

The Era of Marginalisation (1947–77)

The context changed after India achieved independence and there was a need to move ahead from the three Rs towards a much broader category of ‘social education’. The government of India, in its policy documents, announced a social education programme for imparting basic skills for citizenship (cf. Shah, 2010).

The literacy rate grew a bit from 16.07 per cent in 1951 to 31.11 per cent in 1961, but the pattern was not quite even all over the country. In Kerela, it was as high as 55 per cent, whereas Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, and Rajasthan recorded a rate as low as between 20 to 22 per cent. The state of female literacy was even worse (Athreya & Chunkat, 1996:ß, pp. 52–53). In 1959, a literacy programme called the Gram Shikshan Mohim was started in rural areas of the Satara District, Madhya Pradesh, to impart basic literacy skills within a short span of four months, but the programme failed due to lack of adequate infrastructure and appropriate follow-up, resulting in a massive relapse to illiteracy (Ministry of Human Resource Development, 2015). In 1971, the Education Commission of India came up with its report called Education and National Development (Ministry of Education, 1971), which emphasised how important it was to educate the masses for development (or modernisation), stressing that development is directly related to education. The report emphasised how during the 1960s, the country was longing for a revolution to achieve development by attaining food sufficiency, but the masses were not ready. A wide gulf persisted between the laboratory and real life, and it was extremely difficult to bring onthe ‘Green Revolution’9 in India without educating farmers about technology.

In the years 1968–69, the Farmer’s Functional Literacy Programme was launched with an objective to make farmers aware ofthe technical complexities of using HYV (high-yielding varieties) seeds, chemicals, fertilisers, pesticides, insecticides, and the like. About 30 million farmers were enrolled under this programme out of the estimated 100 million, and only 80 million rupees were spent on the whole process instead of the allocated 200 million (Dutta, 1986. p. 67). The programme failed to percolate to the bottom layers of society and remained exclusive in nature, leaving most of the disadvantaged masses on their own (UNDP, 1976: pp. 48–54). ← 243 | 244 →

The reasons for the remarkably poor results in terms ofliteracy during three decades of planned development were numerous, but the most significant of them all was the marginalisation of adult education in education policy and a failure on the part of the government to understand that prioritising primary education over adult education to solve the problem of mass illiteracy was inadequate.

Formation of a structure (1978–86)

The programme was changed to Rural Functional Literacy Programme (RFLP) in the fifth five-year plan. In 1978, the National Adult Education Programme (NAEP) was launched. With a target to achieve the literacy of about 100 million aged between 15 and35 overa period of five years (1979–80 to 1983–84), the focus was now not only on ‘three Rs’ but also on functionality and awareness. This meant that apart from the basic skills of reading, writing, and arithmetic, the curriculum included knowledge of vocational skills that could help people earn livelihoods, and awareness oftheir rights and the tinted story of their exploitation, poverty, and deprivation (Shah, A.B. 1980: 85). Thus, literacy became a tool for creating awareness that could in turn bring on a social transformation (Ramachandran, 1999, p. 87). Strong efforts by different stakeholders to make the programme a success included efforts like preparing study materials and conducting research and training activities through the involvement of central and state governments, institutions like colleges and universities, local bodies like panchayats and municipalities and a number of voluntary agencies(Bordia, A./ Kaul A. pg 57). Despite these efforts, the programme failed to achieve much, as it remained exclusive in nature and women, scheduled castes, and scheduled tribes could not benefit from it (Ministry of Education & Commerce, 1980: 86–87). However, the programme left a new administrative and organisational structure at the central, state, and local level.

Formulation of a policy (1986–1991)

The generational change in the country’s political leadership was reflected at the policy level, too, when the government declared that appropriate political decision-making and an all-inclusive national reconstruction require extensive literacy on an urgent basis at the level of a mission (Ministry of Education, 1985. ← 244 | 245 → pg 41) In 1986, the Ministry of Human Resource Development came up with the National Policy on Education. Adult education was to be delivered in a time-bound, planned manner through a particular structure including institutions (e.g.shramik vidyapeeths, polyvalent adult education centers, industrial training institutes or ITIs, and community polytechnics), and agencies (like TRYSEM or Training for Rural Youth for Self Employment of District Rural development Agencies) to out-of-school youth and adults. Distance education programmes and open learning were promoted for formal higher education, and Jana Shikshan Nilayams were proposed for non-formal vocational education for specific interest groups like workers, farmers, and women for the betterment of livelihood skills. As a result, the National Literacy Mission was launched in the year 1988 with an aim to cover about 80 million adult illiterates between 15 and25 years of age under the functional literacy programme by the year 1995. The programme focused on developingliteracy but also touched on issues like national integration, the conservation of the environment, and gender equality through Total Literacy Campaigns (TLCs) all over the country in an area-specific, time-bound, volunteer-based manner at a mass scale. Imparting functional literacy to illiterates was accompanied by efforts to create awareness among them oftheir socio-economic condition, its causes, and solutions, as well as values linked to the third generation of human rights10 (Ghosh, A. 2000. pg 7). However, several drawbacks in the programme did not allow it to succeed. The lop-sided excessive focus on imparting literacy skills to illiterates rather than balancing functional literacy and post-literacy follow-up programmes and continuing education for neo-literates did not allow the mission to achieve its goal. The literacy machinery in India can be represented as follows: ← 245 | 246 →

Figure 2: The Government Institutional Structure in India for Literacy (author’s own).11

Likewise, a timeline of various adult education efforts in modern India can be summed up as follows: ← 246 | 247 →

Table 1: Adult Education Efforts in Modern India.12

YearAgentEffortGuiding force/ idea/ targetFocus of CurriculumLiteracy rate (as percensus) in per cent
Part of colonial period (17th to 19th century) British missionaries Reading the bible Spreading Christianity and cultural predominance Bible Official data not available13
Part of colonial period (18th to 20th century) Few British officers Reading the bible Social transformation 3 Rs
18th–19th century Indian social reform leaders Social reform organisations, movements, and individual efforts Social transformation 3 Rs
1951–56 Government of India Literacy, extension, general education, leadership training & social education Eradicate illiteracy amongst adults 3 Rs and citizenship skills18.33 27.16 8.86

← 247 | 248 →

← 248 | 249 →

Towards a knowledge economy (1999 onwards)

The National Literacy Mission was revived by the new government under Vajpayee, which aspired to achieve a literacy rate of 75 per cent by the year 2007. In the year 2002, literacy campaigns in operation restoration were launched with theobjective to consolidatethe total literacy campaigns and post-literacy programmes in a single programme (cf. Daswani, C.J. 2002). Technical and vocational skills were included in the continuing education programmes that followed after the preparatory phase of programmes under the Literacy Campaigns in Operation Restoration programmes. Apart from that, financial and administrative powers ← 249 | 250 → regarding the programmes related to adult literacy were decentralised and given away to State Literacy Mission Authorities. The participation of NGOs and State Resource Centres was encouraged under the National Literacy Mission, and Jan Shiksha Sansthans played a key role in imparting vocational and technical skills in urban as well as rural areas. In the year 2002, the Indian Constitution was amended to make education a fundamental right of all the citizens.14 In 2005, the National Knowledge Commission (NKC) was established to create, apply, and disseminate knowledgeand convert India into a full-fledged knowledge economy. In December 2006, the Commission came up with a Report to the Nation(National Knowledge Commission 2006),which included several micro-level suggestions with regard tomaking India a knowledge economy.

India as a Knowledge Economy: Challenges and Opportunities

As a potential knowledge economy, India shows lot of hope. A PESTL (Political, Economic, Social, Technological, and Legal) analysis of India shows that it features all the components suitable for a transition to a knowledge economy. Politically, it is the world’s largest democracy, and with the last general elections held in 2014, it has shown quite positive signs of having a stable government for at least the next tenyears. After about two-and-a-half decades of coalition governments, a single party has now come into power at the centre with a fullmajority, and thattrend seems to continue in the states, too. This has given promising signals for market investments, too. India’s market is continuously growing, and the government has spedup the process of openingup through reforms. The Indian diaspora present across the globe is being invited to invest in India through programmes like ‘Make in India’15 and Vibrant Gujarat.16 Apart from that, free-market operations are gaining prominence in India, and economic reforms are on their way at an unprecedented pace. All in all, the economy is getting liberalised and openedup to integrate with the international economy increasingly to carve out a niche for itself in the international market. At the social front, Facebook and Whatsapp have by and large reduced distances and social differences. In the massive migration from villages to cities, casteism and ← 250 | 251 → social exclusion arebeing left out at a faster pace. That trend picks up speedwhentravelling in the metro train without asking the caste of the person sitting next to you, and when having a day out with colleagues in the office without any concern about their social background. English, which has become a style statement and a means to gain respect among peers today, has become the linguafranca of Indian youth. Pricewars among providers of phone and Internet services have produced the ‘unintended consequence’ of inexpensive access to information and communication technology across the country, and the number of connected nodes that can be easily converted to business is increasing every day.

However, in order for India to realise its complete potential as a knowledge economy, a lot more needs to be done. The current picture of India is bleak in terms of thecapabilities that remain latent and unexplored. An analysis of the current situation in India regarding the four components of a knowledge economy defined by the World Bank (cf Dahlman C./ Utz A. 2005) is given below, but the problems that have been pointed out show that there is a lot of scope for improvement.

Economic and institutional regime: After India gained independence from the British in 1947, it decided to go ahead as a mixed economy with a tilt towards socialism. However, economic reforms in India were introduced in 1991 under international pressure to addressa major economic crisis it was facing. Despite opening up, the economy has remained much isolated from the global economy. The current government in India (since mid-2014), however, has a different approach towards economic development, and it seems keen to integrate India with the global economy more openly and aggressively. As a result, the government is investing more ininfrastructure and open market reforms in addition to improving relations with other countries, especially with the West.

In 2015, the World Bank group ranked India at 142 out of 189 countries for ease of doing business.17 India lacks much in terms of infrastructure, and the accounting standards followed in India are different from and less logical thanthose followed at the international level. Apart from that, India’s skilled and most productive population is concentrated in a few areas, especially in metro cities, rather than scattered across the whole country. Transportation is pathetic in qualitative terms, and the condition of roads, highways, railways, and communication leads to wastage of resources. Similarly, the public distribution system needs overhauling and revival. ← 251 | 252 →

The Globalization Index used to measure economic interdependence and integration with the global economy has placed India at107 (KOF Index of Globalization 2014), showing that there is a long way to go ahead. Similarly, India’s 71st rank in the World Economic Forum’s2014–15 Global Competitiveness Indexshows that the Indian economy needs a lot of improvement for attracting international business and reaping the benefits of its integration with the global market (World Economic Forum 2015).Institutions in India need to be more transparent and open, technological readiness needs to be increased, and labour laws and legal structure (including the patent regime) need to be reformed. Health and education are in a bad state; innovation lacks investment and security. According to the 2013 Open Market Indexby the International Chamber of Commerce, India ranks at 64in the category of below-average openness owing to its trade policy, with import as its only saviour (International Chamber of Commerce 2014). This has been a major cause of the reduced inflow of foreign direct investment (FDI) in India. India is at the 20th position in terms of global FDI inflows, behindChina, Russia, and Brazil (Wikipedia 2015).

Apart from this gloomy picture of India in terms of performance, the GINI index World Bank estimate shows that India needs to redistribute its income and consumption expenditure by 33.6 percent owing to its economic inequality (World Bank 2015). The reforms in India need to be comprehensive and instrumental. Western countries can collaborate with India to develop a basic infrastructure, and India can upgrade to international standards in terms of governance and accounting.

Educated and skilled workers: India has the potential to meet the needsfor human resources across the globe due to its huge numbers of young people. Its limited domestic employment options and the shortage of skilled workers across the developed world, combined with the skyrocketing costs of global outsourcing, may result in prospects for India’s huge workforce to be used in developed countries in the near future. However, the Indian workforce lacks appropriate skills for employability, and today’s India is a classic case of structural unemployment with an alarming mismatch between the jobs available in the market and the skills possessed by people seeking jobs.The 2013 Human Capital Index, prepared by the World Economic Forum ranked India at the 100th position (cf. World Economic Forum 2015), which highlights the fact that India has failed to groom its vast population into a productive human resource.

Despite thegrowth in primary- and secondary-level opportunities for education brought on by various government initiatives and efforts from non-state actors, the majority of the population has limited opportunities for skill development due ← 252 | 253 → to certain socio-economic and political reasons. For almost two decades (1991 to late 2000s), after economic reforms were introduced in India (1991), the country witnessed a period of ‘jobless growth’. The current skill and employability trends on the basis of available data suggest that the demand and supply gap for workforce across different industries and sectors in India by the year 2020 is estimated to be about 75 to 80 percent. More than 90 percent of India’s working population is employed in low-productivity, low-income jobs. Half of the 25-year-olds are not literate, one-third of the remaining half only had primary schooling, four in five entrants to the job market never had any skill training opportunities, and the booming information technology sector still lacks about half a million engineers (cf Perez-Gore, I. 2014). Out of the total 60 percent employable population in India, only 25 percent can be used by the job market. In core professions, the gap between demand and supply has grown to an alarming 82 to 86 percent (Wheebox 2014). On top of it, about 47 percent of the total youth are not employable because of a lack of English language skills (Wheebox 2014). With 86 percent of the total employed population working in the informal sector (including self-employment) (Okaya A. 2012), only 10 percent of the workforce receive some kind of training with formal training subsiding at just 2 percent,whereas80 percent of entrants never get an opportunity for skill training (FICCI 2012).

India needs a structured policy and implementation mechanism for skill enhancement and training primarily along two lines:

  1. To meet the requirements of the international job market targeting the employable skilled and semi-skilled urban educated population with linguistic, interactive, and communicative competency to match international standards.
  2. To support its own economic base and promote social inclusion targeting the literate, semi-literate, and illiterate employable population from rural areas and suburbs through small and medium-sized enterprises, self-employment initiatives, and public employment guarantee schemes.

However, the government’s only initiatives for coping with these challenges are the provisions for creating a basic infrastructure for skill development in the eleventh (2007–12) and twelfth (2012–17) five-year plans, and the policy formulation and implementation mechanisms in the National Policy on Skills (2009). These seem quite inadequate to meet the target of skilling up about 150 million people by 2022 across 21 areas (including the unorganised sector, 10 manufacturing industries, and 10 services) that have been identified by the government as areas with a high potential for employment opportunities. Besides, literacy and social inclusion continue to be the primary focus of government education policy and initiatives, along with resource allocation in education(Census of India 2011). ← 253 | 254 →

Despite the efforts of private actors like TATA, Wipro, and HCL, NGOs and research institutions that have come up in rural and backward areas with the help of development projects funded internationally and globally by various state and non-state actors, and skill development initiatives by public fund and self-help groups, India is unable to bridge the demand-supply gap even in its own market. While most private-sector initiatives stay confined to conditioning and skill enhancement for particular services, especially BPOs, KPOs, and software development, the primary output of NGOs, research initiatives, and international collaborations winds up in reports and data. Multinationals like Bosch (a German company), which have initiated the process of skill development through partnerships with the government, some universities, and other players from the international market, are welcome in the Indian market to provide education and skills that they would need in their prospective employees. This huge Indian population can he developed into a world-class human resource viacollaborations at the international level.

An efficient innovation system: Although it boasts more than one-sixth of the world’s total population, India’s share of the global gross expenditure on research and development is only 3 per cent. Its expenditure in this area is about five times lower than that of one of its major competitors, China. It spends about 1.9 per cent of its GDP in terms of Purchasing Power Parity (Economic Survey of India 2014–15). Except Russia, India lags behind all BRICS nations in its capacity for innovation. In terms of innovation in business services, it also lags behind the required criteria. AlthoughIndia scores better than other BRICS nations in terms of the availability of engineers and scientists owing to its large population, research remains exclusive, limited to labs, reports, and the premises of research institutions (Economic Survey of India 2014–15). Millions are deprived of the boons of technology due to the widening gulf between lab and life. The application of technology and its productive use has remained absent from the list of priorities at the policy implementation level. Private players abstain from investment because of a weak patent regime, whereas the government machinery is devoid of both funds and motivation. The 2014 Global Innovation Index (Cornell University/INSEAD/WIPO, 2014)18 ranked India at 76, whereas all other BRICS countriesscored ahead ofIndia with China at 29, Russia at 49, South Africa at 53, and Brazil at 61. While ← 254 | 255 → all other BRICS countries are climbingup the ladder of innovation capabilities, India has beengoing downevery year forthe last three years.

India can benefit a lot from technology transfer at the global level, and international firms can take advantage of the Indian market to sell their technology and their technologically sophisticated products. The Maruti-Suzuki collaboration in the automobile sector isone of the best success stories of such a partnership. Because India might not be able to buy very good technology or develop its own innovation setup, global players can do this for India in return foran open Indian market. This will benefit the average citizenin terms ofreduced inflation, better options in the product market, increased productiveness, and an overall enhancement in the quality of life.

Information and communication technology: According to the Census of India (2011), 68.84 per cent of India’s population (i.e. 83.3 million people) live in villages (Census of India 2011). As a large number of Indian villages are poorlyequipped with basic infrastructure like roads and electricity, getting integrated with the mainstream information and communication technology network remains a dream. India ranks at 89in the Network Readiness Index, (World Economic Forum, 2014) prepared by the World Economic Forum to measure the capability of a country to use and benefit from information and communication technology. Despite being the second-largest country in the world in terms of the number of Internet users due to its huge population, only 19.10 per cent of people in India use the Internet, putting the country at 145th position for 2014–15 (Wikipedia 2015). Likewise, in terms of broadband Internet subscription and mobile cellular subscriptions, India is much behindChina, ranking at 137 and 110, respectively for 2014–15 (Wikipedia 2015).

The Digital India programme, launched recently by the government, is an initiative to transform India into a knowledge economy byextending the broadband network across 250,000 villages, including universal phone connectivity and net zero imports, by 2020. This drive is expected to integrate the whole country digitally, and the complete transformation of the government machinery to an electronic setup would create about 17 million jobs directly and 85 million jobs indirectly, making India a digitally empowered nation. However, India needs better trainers, funds, and advanced technology, which can be provided by international players through channels that have equally promising opportunities for them as well.


India’s transition to a knowledge economy may not be smooth.Although it has tremendous resources and opportunities as per World Bank standards, India has ← 255 | 256 → a lot more work to do in all dimensions of the knowledge economy. Countries from the West, especially from Europe, can collaborate with India to find viable solutions for their approaching demographic challenge. India, on the other hand, will have effective solutions for problems that now impede its evolution into a complete knowledge economy. Moreover, in the context of India, the narrow notion of using knowledge for production, consumption, and capital formation is strictly inadequate. There is a need to focus on delivering the fruits of the knowledge economy in an egalitarian and inclusive manner along with a balanced development. Waiting for wealth to ‘trickle down’ from islands of wealth to the country’s emaciated masses may take longer than bearable. Reallocations made for the most productive alternatives may render some millions homeless and hopeless. Replacing knowledge as the primary factor in all economic activities may force thousands more to go to sleep hungry. Imposing concepts of capitalism that work smoothly in advanced societies might tear the country apart into fragmented markets for the huge economic giants to enjoy.

Thus, it must be kept in mind that the transition to a knowledge society should not be made faster and smoother at the cost of human lives. After all, it is their development about which we are concerned. Forcing society into a never-ending commodity-producing race may lead us nowhere. Instead of a pure value-free concept of knowledge guiding the process of endless production-consumption and capital formation, there is a need for a whole system supported by value-based knowledge that may not become inhumane with the passion of converting human beings from liabilities to assets and measuring them in terms of work units per hours, scorecards, and production/output instead emotions and human values. In a true sense, that would suffice to be a knowledge economy!


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1 This story was recorded on October 20th 2014 during a study conducted by the author in the Jhawani village of Tezpur, Assam, India for the RHEES-BURD project and her own PhD.

2 Dependency ratio, or the pressure on the productive population, refers to the percentage of people in an economy that depends economically on the working population for the fulfillment of its basic needs.

3 The literacy rate in India is measured according to the criteria provided by UNESCO. A census is conducted every ten years in India (the most recent one in 2011) in which measuring the capability to read and write is an important factor. The percentage of people who know to read and write is termed the literacy rate in India.

4 This table has been collated by the author from the data taken from Chapter 6, Census of India, 2011 available at:

5 According to basic economic theory, an economy has three major functions: production, consumption, and capital formation.

6 The poem called ‘White Man’s Burden’ by the British poet Rudyard Kipling was published in 1899. It conveys the notion that the British were entrusted with the duty to colonise non-white countries for the benefit of the latter.

7 The British missionaries wanted to educate Indians so that they could study the bible. Their basic literacy programmes, whichconsisted of imparting skills to read and write, were not officially called ‘adult education programmes’, but they targeted India’s adult population. For further reference, see Shah, S.Y. 2010.

8 The term refers to the foundations of a basic skills-oriented education programme. The phrase ‘the three Rs’ is used because each word in the phrase has a strong R phoneme at the beginning.

9 The Green Revolution in India (1960s) was a comprehensive programme launched by the Indian government to improve agricultural output in India through agronomic technology, primarily including the use of high-yielding varieties (HYV) seeds, fertilisers, and better techniques for irrigation.

10 The third generation of human rights includes developmental rights.

11 The figure has been created by the author to explain the government institutional structure in India under the Ministry of Human Resource Development. The highest authority (NLMA) in this arrangement is at the national level, which takes care of all the initiatives to provide literacy across the country. Under this are the SLMAs, which operate in Indian states. Each state is divided into smaller areas called districts, which are further divided into blocks and then into clusters of villages. These divisions are used for administrative purposes, policy planning, and their implementation by the government.

12 This table was created by the author based on general information available about adult education initiatives in India; information about the literacy rate in India has been taken from the Census of India (2011), which is conducted every ten years. Official data on the part of Government of India is not available for the in-between period, and therefore changes in literacy rates over shorter spans are not reflected in the table, available at

13 No official data on the part of the Government of India is available for access.

14 The 86th Amendment Act of the Indian Constitution, inserted in Article 21A of the Indian Constitution, made provision for free and compulsory elementary education to all children between the age of 6 to 14 years so that no one remains illiterate in the country in the long run. For further details, see

15 A policy initiative declared by the new Prime Minister, Mr Narendra Modi, to encourage investment in India’s manufacturing sector in India.

16 An initiative of the State of Gujarat to deal directly with foreign and Indian investors.

17 Doing Business, The World Bank Group Data available at:

18 The Global Innovation Index is a collaborative effort of Cornell University, INSEAD Business School, and the World Intellectual Property Organisation to measure the innovation capacity of countries.