Education, doing the numbers
Six degrees of separation refers to the idea that everyone is on an average approximately six steps away from any other person on the surface of Earth. However, this theory does not account for the fact that the “last mile connect” will in all likelihood be over a digital medium, and as a majority of all personal communication is now non-voice – we email, tweet, scribble, and share much more than we talk on any given day – there’s a good chance you wont be able to reach out to nearly 300M of India’s population.
Unfortunately, this would be not because they aren’t covered by “the network”, but due to the fact that they simply cannot read or write. In fact, one may be able to connect with someone millions of miles away on topics of international importance, but connecting with an unlettered person just a few miles away on seemingly mundane issues may prove to be surprisingly difficult.
The inability to connect, to interact, and to understand the world around us in some ways denies an individual a basic human right. This state of affairs takes a dangerous turn when viewed in the context of the universal adult franchise – when more than 30% of the electorate cannot read and comprehend a candidate’s manifesto. How, then, is the individual expected to “cast his or her vote out of free will”? Wouldn’t the “free will” always be influenced by the will of someone else? As an interesting statistic, the number of unlettered people in India is very similar to the number of people living below the poverty line.
Having stated that, I would immediately caution the reader against theorizing any causation. It is not the case that only the unlettered are below the poverty line, or somehow by becoming lettered, one automatically graduates above the poverty line. Although, one would imagine that the chances of “graduating” above the line are likely to increase in such a case. Let’s try doing the numbers on these 300M people – lets also modify the worst case law of averages to apply as 1 in 10 instead of 1 in 8, as it is easier to measure:
- so let’s say 1 in 10 people given primary education actually “get it”,
- then 1 in 10 of those actually go on to high schools,
- then 1 in 10 of those actually go on to get a college degree,
- then 1 in 10 of those get the opportunity to do scientific research
- then 1 in 10 of those actually figure out something real, new, and exciting that makes this world a better place to live in.
Despite using this worst case scenario, it appears that we have a hidden “Super 3000″ in the unlettered crowd without really stretching the assumptions too far. This truly is a demographic dividend that we are yet to tap into.
-- Dilip Chabria
Dilip manages the branding, education outreach efforts of Team Indus, an official Google Lunar X Prize team.
This entry was published first on Padakshep’s Blog. Padakshep is a non-profit organization that provides financial support to meritorious, but economically deprived high-school and undergraduate students in West Bengal, India (http://www.padakshep.org/). We also maintain a blog (http://blog.padakshep.org/) which provides a platform for sharing ideas on education and other social issues relevant to India.