Unsurprisingly, Budget 2021 has called for a big infrastructure push to bring the economy back on track. Better roads, improved power supply, and digital connectivity should help improve the economy. However, what the Budget totally disregards is that sustained neglect of education and skills are stifling economic growth.
The centrality of education for an economy to progress has been well explained by economics Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen. In his writings he has observed that economies in East Asia “firmly focused on general expansion of education. Widespread participation in a global economy would have been hard to accomplish if people could not read or write, or produce according to specifications or instructions, or to have quality control.”
Indeed the four Asian Tiger countries—Hong Kong, Singapore, Taiwan, and South Korea—that transformed from underdeveloped to developed countries in less than half a century, made heavy investments in education. While China’s remarkable physical infrastructure is widely commented upon, China’s early and large investments in providing education to masses escapes attention. The western world also invested heavily in education early on. Today the average global spending on education is 5% of GDP, Switzerland known for the best public education system in the world spends 5.4% ($38.9 billion) for a tiny population of just 8.57 million people.