Editorial: Let’s Pamper Our 10%

Invest in the children for your own future

As of 2011, exactly 64,111 members of Sikkim’s population were in the 0-6 age-group, making up a neat 10.50% of its hen population of 6,10,577 people. The national share of population in this age-group is slightly higher at 13.1%, down from 15.9% in 2001. These figures, as per the Census of India 2011. The previous Census, that of 2001, had posted the number of children in this age-group at 78,195, making up 14.50% of Sikkim’s population of 5,40,851 at the time. There has been talk about the fall in fertility rates, with some even suggesting that Sikkimese women should bear more children:-o While such demands and suggestions are clearly wrong at so many levels, this section had only recently commented on such attitudes, so today, let’s discuss “young age dependency”, as census enumerators refer to the 0-6 age-group. Dependency ratio can be defined as the age-population ratio of those typically not in the labor force. This would mean the minors and the senior citizens, whose care rests on the shoulders of the productive/ working population. Clearly then, the lower this number, the lesser the stress on the working population and better the access to available resources for the ‘dependents’. At a wider, society and State level, this means that the existing infrastructure and funds can now go much further since the number of beneficiaries is fewer. Even in absolute terms, for instance, the number of minors has dropped from 78,195 in 2001 to 64,111 in 2011. Given the trend, this number must be even lower now, seven years down the line. Budget outlays have however consistently risen, and even after factoring in inflation, there should be much more available by way of funds for these children per head than was the case two decades ago. It goes without saying that fewer number of the very young translates into an enhanced ability to invest in child development. It’s simplistic, but one needs to be bear in mind that a fewer newborns now, while it might free resources to ensure better care and education for them in the immediate future, also translates as greater responsibilities on their shoulders in the longer run. As a generation ages, they will stop being active contributors to the economy and the work-place. Improved healthcare facilities will mean that they will also remain dependent for more years. The share of elderly will increase, and with fewer young coming of age down the line, the pressure on them to look after the aged will increase. China is feeling the stress of its one-child policy now. That said, today’s minors will deliver on their adult responsibilities only as well as they have been groomed in the present. All the more reason why they should be exposed to the best education and groomed with a stronger sense of responsibility and belonging if the present generation wants to be looked after better when they retire and grow into the dependency of old age. If education is genuinely touched by quality, a more confident and definitely more resourceful generation can be prepared. But Sikkim has been failing its young embarrassingly. Take the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) of 2013, for instance. Where one had hoped that fewer children would have missed improved classroom teaching, the opposite seems to be happening. Reading levels among standard III students dropped from 52% in 2009 to 51% in 2013. Agreed, the drop is marginal, but reading levels were measured as class III students being able to read standard I texts. It should have improved substantially. But it dropped. This was for government schools, and for those who think private schools must have performed better, they didn’t. Combined govt and private school data registers an even sharper drop from a combined acceptable level of 61% in 2009 to a worrying 57% in 2013. In mathematics, the fall in learning quality is even more dramatic. In 2009, 60% of the standard III students could do subtraction, the basic for this age, but in 2013, barely 50% in that class could do so anymore! Where the young should have been learning better because there are fewer of them and still the same number, if not more, of teachers attending to them, the quality of teaching has fallen! But quality education is something everyone owes to the very young. And now it is also affordable. Think about it, if 90% of the population wakes up to its responsibilities towards the remaining 10% who depend on them for everything, they can ensure that the minors receive the best of everything. If this 90% consciously resolves to genuinely care, a much more responsive, warm and compassionate generation will take charge of Sikkim in the very near future.