Contrary To What Many Believe, Most Indians Are Illiterate The gifted scientists and engineers are real; but they are a small minority in a vast country of over 1.2 billion people

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WASHINGTON – Based on partial and therefore misleading information you think that most Indians are highly educated and English speaking. You think that a large number of them hold advanced degrees in computer science, engineering and other sophisticated subjects. You also believe that India’s high-tech industries based in Bangalore, Chennai and Hyderabad now rival Silicon Valley. In other words, you tend to believe that India has made great progress and that it is now rapidly becoming a modern country.

Partial truth does not provide real picture

Well, let’s say that, while some of this is true, India’s real figures tell a completely different story. According to Teach India, a non-profit organization, in India 4% of all children never start school, 58% do not complete primary school, 90% don’t complete secondary school, and only 10% go to college. Among these, only a small fraction get advanced degrees in high-tech. And less than 10% of all Indians speak English.

Look, in absolute numbers these small percentages still give you very high figures. India is a country with an enormous population of more than 1.2 billion. Therefore, 10% of Indians going to college means roughly 120 million people. Less than 10% fluent in English is still about 86 million, more than the entire UK population.

Well educated are only a small minority

Still, it would be a huge mistake to assume that the educated Indians we see succeeding in America or elsewhere represent an Indian average. Sadly, most Indians are poor or semi-poor and illiterate. And no, they do not speak any English.

Modernizing India?

Narendra Modi, the newly elected Indian Prime Minister, wants to launch a rapid modernization program that will trigger the creation of new business and investments. Well, good luck to him. This is hard to do anywhere. Even harder when you are dealing with a mostly illiterate or semi-literate population.

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