Human resource mattersHuman resource development has multiple dimensions and cannot be explained only in statistical terms So budget allocations and educational growth in terms of numbers are not adequate to convey the spirit of human resource development
Human resource development has multiple dimensions and cannot be explained only in statistical terms. So budget allocations and educational growth in terms of numbers are not adequate to convey the spirit of human resource development. Many people think that spending a lot of money on education will solve the problem of human resource development. They tend to ignore other aspects that are no less significant for preparing quality manpower. Good policies based on equity and enabling the poorest of the poor and other marginalised sections of society to get the same kind of education as available to the privileged section are essential aspects.
It is ironic that the South Asian political elite have not fully understood the value of education for human development and for creating a civilised society. Employment and culture formation should go together as the former is related to livelihood while the latter is related to gathering knowledge for opening avenues of professionalism and civilised society. Thus, it is as much manpower development as creation of a decent life.
South Asian societal structures and orientations are somewhat problematic for making uniform educational policies and ending entrenched disparities. Education, health, employment opportunities and poverty reduction remain unaddressed even under the dispensation of the so-called people-friendly governments. Education funding in South Asia is low compared to other sectors. When corruption is rampant and institutional decay in all spheres of life is pervasive, only a fraction of the allocated budget percolates down to the people’s programmes.
For the poor and marginalised sections of society, education is beyond reach due to the undiminished gap between the so-called private and public institutions. This is a typical South Asian phenomenon. Most countries in the region have not been able to reduce the gaps in education, though from the point of view of social indicators, Sri Lanka is the best. In India, Kerala is rated as a good state with impressive social indicators. But how far these models have proved to be relevant to the development of these countries needs to be probed.
South Asia has many things in common with regard to human resource development. One, elitist education has created a gulf between the privileged and deprived sections of society. Post-colonial South Asia could have made its education and health systems more egalitarian and common in order to end disparity. Instead, social disparity has increased creating a narrow middle class. Two, educated youths in South Asia have a tendency to go abroad for employment. The remaining 80 percent or so are handicapped due to poor educational standards and poverty. Dropouts and youths with poor educational standards cannot compete with privileged groups and remain unemployed. So, even if the countries in the region have a huge youth population, their potential is not likely to be used for the development of these countries.
Three, the human resource development agenda suffers a lot due to a high level of politicisation (more like party-isation, in fact) of educational institutions. In Nepal, government-funded public institutions are greatly affected by partisan politics (bhagbanda) that turns them into recruitment grounds for hangers-on of political parties. Consequently, the products of such institutions can hardly meet the requirements of the country, nor can they have the competitive potentials for jobs in the market. The low priority given to education, health and other areas related to the social sectors has affected human resource development. A crisis of governance caused by a number of reasons and rampant corruption having grave negative implications for institutional and human development has obstructed the overall development of the region.
Utilising the young
Despite such a gloomy picture, a comparative perspective of post-colonial South Asia suggests that much progress has been made in transforming the quality of life in the region. A densely populated country like Bangladesh has an impressive record of population planning and development. Nepal’s human resource development record is not bad either because, compared to the pre-1950 period, manpower training and development has taken place under several multilateral planning bodies and with its own meagre resources. So, if one visits any small or big hospital in Nepal today, one will see no foreign doctors, nurses or other staff.
A high level of specialisation in all fields of medical science has become a fact of life. The private sector has made inroads into education and health, challenging public sector institutions. Yet, the problem with the private sector is that all health and educational institutions are not for ordinary (poor) people as these private institutions are beyond the reach of the poor. Moreover, commercialisation of education and the state’s helplessness to regulate these institutions on the basis of a uniform code of conduct has not helped to reduce the existing disparity.
In his international bestseller The Rise and Fall of Nations: Ten Rules of Change in the Post-Crisis World, Ruchir Sharma gives high premium to people as a principal factor for the development of a country. The question is not about the ‘demographic risk’ but about the growth of the talent pool. He writes, “For most countries, the primary economic threat is not too many people but rather too few young people…” And the ability to use the growing number of young people. In South Asia today, instead of using the youth internally, governments have opened offices to send their young talents to other countries’ labour markets. It is indeed an irony.
Baral is a professor and former Nepali ambassador to India