Thursday, January 17, 2008

Health and education in India

These two excellent articles point out the woes of healthcare and education in India: A healthier future for India, and Education push yield's little for India's poor.

India has only 1.5 hospital beds per 1000 people, which is way lower than averages of 3-4 in most other developing countries. And only 0.6 doctors and 0.08 nurses per 1000 people, as compared to world averages of 1.2 and 2.6 respectively.

As for education, among the poorest 20 percent of Indian men, half are illiterate, and barely 2 percent graduate from high school, according to government data. Those who do go to school, hardly learn anything because of teacher absenteeism or poor quality of education. By contrast, among the richest 20 percent of Indian men, nearly half are high school graduates and only 2 percent are illiterate.

These figures are indeed disheartening. It is not only humanely wrong, but it is also hurting India economically. Most than 50% of the population is below 24, which means a terrible wastage of human resource if they are not well educated and healthy. How can this be corrected? The government is of course spending a lot of money on building hospitals and schools, and paying doctors and teachers to work in the villages. But the results have not been great. Corruption is surely to blame, but a lack of good leadership both at the government as well as at the local level, seem to be missing too. Corruption can potentially be corrected with electronic systems, social audits, RTIs, and the whole lot. But what about leadership? Given the largely mediocre civil services sector and the [cannot-find-a-single-adjective-for-this] politicians who are in no way capable of governing a nation of billion people, can we ever expect things to become good? This raises a lot of questions on the assumptions. Why is health and education supposed to be a public sector enterprise anyways? Is there a substitute for leadership, maybe better work ethics on part of the teachers or doctors or other concerned people? Can systems be structured such that they automatically promote better conduct and commitment to jobs? The answers may not be straightforward, but they may definitely be there somewhere only waiting to be discovered.