Comparing India, China and Egypt

If your country has either a strong government or a strong civil society, it has the ability to rise to this challenge. If it has neither, it will have real problems, which is why Egypt is struggling. China leads in providing its youth bulge with education, infrastructure and jobs, but lags in unleashing freedom and curiosity. India is the most intriguing case if it can get its governance and corruption under control. The quest for upward mobility here, especially among women and girls, is palpable. I took part in the graduation ceremony for The Energy and Resources Institute last week. Of 12 awards for the top students, 11 went to women.

"India today has 560 million young people under the age of 25 and 225 million between the ages of 10 and 19," explained Shashi Tharoor, India's minister of state for human resource development. "So for the next 40 years we should have a youthful working-age population" at a time when China and the broad industrialised world is ageing. According to Tharoor, the average age in China today is around 38, whereas in India it's around 28. In 20 years, that gap will be much larger. So this could be a huge demographic dividend "provided that we can educate our youth offering vocational training to some and university to others to equip them to take advantage of what the 21st-century global economy offers," said Tharoor. "If we get it right, India becomes the workhorse of the world. If we get it wrong, there is nothing worse than unemployable, frustrated" youth.

Indeed, some of India's disaffected youth are turning to Maoism in rural areas. "We have Maoists among our tribal populations, who have not benefited from the opportunities of modern India," Tharoor said. There have been violent Maoist incidents in 165 of India's 625 districts in recent years, as Maoists tap into all those left out of the "Indian dream." So there is now a huge push here to lure poor kids into school. India runs the world's biggest midday lunch programme, serving 250 million free school lunches each day. It's also doubled its number of Indian Institutes of Technology, from eight to 16, and is planning 14 new universities for innovation and research.

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