China and India have a lot in common. Both are among the world's most populous countries. They are two of the fastest-growing world economies, and in recent years have undertaken liberalizing political reform. But when it comes to education, India and China are in different orbits.
A new global study of learning standards in 74 countries ranks India at the bottom of the pack while China comes out on top. The study, released by the Australian Council of Education Research, updates a 2009 Program for International Assessment (PISA) study that assess education systems worldwide by testing the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students in participating economies.
"The findings are significant because they come at a time when India is making a big push in education and to improve the skills of their workforce," says Prashant K Nanda in an article for Mint, an Indian business newspaper published in collaboration with the Wall Street Journal. "The results put in question India's long term ability to compete."
An editorial for Mint says India needs to get its act together: "The current state of affairs will lead to a future where we will have let down millions of young Indians, who will be shut out of the job market because they were failed by the state. The demographic dividend we keep talking about — the one that's going to give us an edge over China in the decades to come — is going to be more of a demographic disaster if we cannot equip our young people with the skills required in this new global economy. The government must make school education a priority if it is to arrest the decline of this most valuable of institutions."
But, why did India perform so poorly on the PISA assessments? One reason may be because India started its pro-growth reforms a decade after China, says Michael Schuman for Time magazine. It is behind, because it got a later start.
But other structural factors may be in play. Malnutrition could negatively impact the IQ of Indian students, says economist Tyler Cowen in an article for Marginal Revolution. The Indian state does an abysmal job educating women, even compared to some other very poor countries, says Cowen, who adds: "On educational tests the female students are at a marked disadvantage and that will drag down the average."