Reinvest the Demographic Dividend: Volunteer

22 Mar


Giving students incentives to join in, supporting them and giving credit where it is due is always a good thing. It has been done for the NCC (planned), but it is needed more for National Service, the NSS, or a volunteer force, especially for Education.

The old National Cadet Core (NCC) is being given a new lease of life. Relaunched today as an elective with credits for autonomous colleges and to be extended to universities, it is now more mainstream than its previous design. Currently reported to have enlisted 13L students, it is expected to boom to 15L cadets in two years.

Clearly a cautious move then. The nation needs something bolder and bigger for Education with similar incentives as given to the new NCC. Clearly, the values of the NCC are to be supported, especially the drill of discipline and a sense of the cadre, but what we need in India is a greater sense of community.

The sister service, the National Service scheme languishes except in pockets. It is far less structured, allows for greater entrepreneurial skills to be honed and fosters a connect between the education institutions and the community. All of these are critical to the skilling of our youth and building linkages with industry to improve potential employment.

Supporting the NSS not only meets the goals of the NCC and more, it also provides resources for the sector that needs it most – Education.

Our teacher shortage is the biggest problem, across primary, secondary and post-secondary education. The estimated teacher shortage ranges from 13 million to 20 million depending on how the need is defined. Existing teachers are overloaded, often alone in solitary postings and under-supported. They are subject to administrative regimes and offered institutional training but often do not receive the resources or encouragement they need. A volunteer service force can help.

There is so much that our schools need. For one, most do not have adequate buildings. Or toilets. If volunteer teams of white collar professionals can come in from the west, go to remote villages and jungles and physically build schools and toilets, surely our students can too. In the spirit of service. If we do not have that spirit, this is the first value that needs to be rebuilt even before the buildings are repaired.

Organisations such as Teach For India are seeking to professionalize teacher not-quite-volunteers who work as leaders for their community too. They are given short but intense training and are mentored through the process of their teaching program. But so much more than teaching needs to be done at schools.

Volunteers can do much to shore up enrolment, attendance and engagement with schools. Share what you know, develop your skills to broadcast them wide. Teach the children games they have never seen – and bring the children back into schools. Build play areas for them. Enact plays, involve them in acting, music, dance, costumes etc. Discuss the stories they know and tell them more stories.

Volunteers can teach the children skills for life (and in the process teach themselves too!) If you can do magic tricks, teach them the trick and showmanship. Show them what confidence and faith can achieve. Teach them how to manage their time, tell them what priorities are (let them choose their own). Show them how to account for and manage money.

There is so much our schools need.

But what they do not need is patronising interference from amateur do-gooders.. Teaching is a skilled job and any support should be just that – support, not a take over. Help the teacher, motivate the teacher, celebrate the teacher – but let the teacher do their job.

What if the teacher is not there?

Given the attendance record of teachers, this is  a serious issue. Para teachers may need support, ask them. Parents may request tutoring – that is an option. Or even finding a way to not be offensive and yet track and report truant teachers – the creative energy of the youth is boundless. If they apply their skills and training, working in groups, they can bring about real change through this service.

Need more ideas? If you understand science and how it works in real life – can you demonstrate it? Do. Can you read patiently – and help others read? Do that. Can you develop resources? Laminated books, speaking toys, windmill prototypes, solar powered lightbulbs? Do that. Can you write apps for low cost mobile phones? Why don’t you write some that students can share and learn? Or raise funds. Create opportunities for each student to be able to afford higher education via the funds you raise. Each additonal year of education increases their lifetime income manifold.

And my favourite: give scholarships for achievers. Awards for achievements – running, storywriting, debating, team sports, singing, dancing, teaching.. celebrate achievement of goals and support those who show a determination to win. And let them work for it, so that they are proud of what they have earned and pass this self-worth on to the next person they meet.

There is much to do. And we need a youth cadre that steps up in service. To replicate the credits of the NCC for the NSS would be a welcome step, to encourage more students to join in. It is easy to be disheartened and cynical and call our youth lazy and selfish. Yet, given the right encouragement and incentive, many do excellent work.

After all, this is India’s demographic dividend. What use is it if some of it isnot reinvested? :)




This was published in the Times of India blogs on March 13, 2012 and is linked here and


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