In economics, Gross Domestic Product, or simply GDP, is one of several important parameters used to measure a country's economic development. It is the total output of all goods and services within a nation, in a given year. There is also another important parameter to measure economic development - per capita GDP. Simply put, it is the GDP of a nation divided by its total population. Thomas Piketty makes some important observations on historical global distribution of wealth using per capita GDP as a parameter, and analyses its possible causes. He chooses two continental blocs, Europe-America and Asia-Africa, the former with mostly developed economies and the latter having mostly under-developed ones, and observes historical economic inequalities, starting from 1700s. Here is a graph of the percentage of the global average of per capita GDP of both the continental blocs:
With a per capita GDP share of 150% of the global average in the 1700s, the Europe-America bloc, shows a consistent rise with time. As the West goes through an industrial revolution, the Asia-Africa witnesses a fall in the per capita GDP share. From the 1700 onwards the two lines show a consistent divergence from each other with the developing world trying to pull back only from the 1990s. Convergence of these two lines now, does not appear to be all that complex after all. The developed nations already have enough capital, and they can invest in the developing economies that are in need of money. Apparently, it is win-win for both, as the developed countries can profit from investing additional capital they already have, and the developing countries can benefit by utilizing the capital for production and output. Not so easy, says Piketty.
If nations have to achieve true economic development it is important for them to build highly skilled labour force that can provide top-quality goods and services, with which they can also compete in an open global market. So, it is important to keep scientific and technological skills of the population on the rise. Piketty cites the examples of economic development witnessed by Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, and also China, in the recent years. So, if these two lines on the graph have to really converge, it is important that the under-developed nations develop skills of their population to be able to effectively benefit from the opportunities of the open global market. Piketty uses the term 'knowledge diffusion'. So, by the detailed analysis of historical data, Piketty comes to the conclusion that development of skills of the population, is of prime importance, and investment in quality education, especially in science and technology, is key for development of poor nations.
So, it follows that poor nations, like India, will benefit from building strong primary and higher-education systems. So, how strong are the education systems in India? Is india headed towards building stronger education systems that will help drive development? The answer, is a clear NO.
It has been proven beyond doubt that mother tongue based education is most effective in learning. Studies conducted around the world have time and again proven this fact. UNESCO not only recommends mother tongue based education but also considers it a right of every child. It is important that governments focus on building strong primary education systems in the mother tongue, and also strive to build institutions of higher education in the language of the people. This will provide a strong foundation towards achieving 'knowledge diffusion' that Piketty talks about. Successive governments in India have done trifle little in building higher education systems in people’s languages. Unfortunately, educationists, intellectuals and civil activists too have failed in building a narrative in this regard.
Industrialization alone, without much focus towards knowledge diffusion, has its limits in achieving economic development. Building a highly-skilled labour force is critical, and an education system based on people’s languages plays a key role, as is the case in the examples of countries like Japan, and South Korea.
But India, unfortunately, seems to have succumbed to a notion in education that is pulling it in the opposite direction. The narrative that the English medium education is a panacea has successfully hijacked the society into believing in the myth that English medium is the only way to achieve success in the era of globalization. It appears that to be successful, people have to cross the English language barrier, which only a small percentage can manage to do. A huge mass of people aspiring to be part of the anglicized elite that the system has built, is still deprived of quality education. So, what we really need is a far-sighted focus towards building strong primary education systems, followed by top-notch higher education systems, in our languages.
It is important to note that Japan and South Korea that are part of the Asia-Africa bloc managed to close the gap with the West by building strong mother tongue based education systems. Needless to say, nations like Britain, France and Germany that witnessed development with the industrial revolution, and countries like Sweden, Denmark and Finland that caught up with them later too developed on the foundations of education systems in the languages of their respective people. And it is not a co-incidence that nations in the Asia-Africa bloc that have struggled to achieve economic development despite investments flowing in, have failed to build education systems in their languages.
Lessons for India are very clear. Industries are important, but there is no way we can eliminate inequalities and reach the levels of development achieved by the West without education in people's languages.