Developments in science and technology are fundamentally altering the way people live, connect, communicate and transact, with profound effects on economic development. To promote tech advance, developing countries should invest in quality education for youth, and continuous skills training for workers and managers. Science and technology are key drivers to development, because technological and scientific revolutions underpin economic advances, improvements in health systems, education and infrastructure.
The technological revolutions of the 21st century are emerging from entirely new sectors, based on micro-processors, tele-communications, bio-technology and nano-technology. Products are transforming business practices across the economy, as well as the lives of all who have access to their effects. The most remarkable breakthroughs will come from the interaction of insights and applications arising when these technologies converge.
Through breakthroughs in health services and education, these technologies have the power to better the lives of poor people in developing countries. Cures for other diseases which are endemic in developing countries are also now possible, allowing people with debilitating conditions to live healthy and productive lives.
As an engine of growth, the potential of technology is endless, and still largely untapped in Africa and other developing world regions across the globe. Less developed countries not only lack skilled labour and capital, but also use these less efficiently. Inputs account for less than half of the differences in per capita income across nations. The rest is due to the inability to adopt and adapt technologies to raise productivity.
Computing for example, through unlocking infrastructure backlogs and managing integrated supply chains, can transform economic performance by enabling affordable and accessible services in education and healthcare.
About 90 percent of the world’s population can access mobile networks, with three-quarters of mobile subscribers living in developing economies. Cellular technology has allowed Africa to leapfrog the age of fixed line telephony, bringing affordable access to millions of people.
However, the continued and equitable expansion of Information Communication Technology (ICT) depends on electricity. The real divide over the next 20 years will be between those who have access to reliable electricity to power these devices and those who do not.
Other technologies under development are interventions for cognitive enhancement, proton cancer therapy and genetic engineering. Revolutionary inventions include small underground nuclear power units called nuclear batteries that will be ultra-safe and maintenance-free; new types of photo-voltaics that will make electricity from sunlight cheaper than that from coal; and myriad nano-technologies, some of which lower the cost and increase the reliability of many products – even in the poorest areas of the developing world.
Managing technological revolutions poses challenges. Certain innovations and discoveries will raise fraught bio-ethical issues, as genetic modification of food crops and cloning of human embryos has already done. There is a risk that their cost, particularly in the early stages of development, will worsen the present inequality by limiting access to wealthy individuals. This already happens in health care in certain G7 countries, where the demand for very high-cost diagnostic equipment and surgical interventions enabling longevity and better quality of life for older wealthy people overstretches public health care budgets, and lowers service quality in poor neighborhoods.
Finally, resource-intensive technologies, focused on satisfying high consumption demand, like holidays abroad in costal resorts, wilderness areas, or iconic cities, increase carbon emissions and environmental damage.
To promote technological advances, developing countries should invest in quality education for youth, continuous skills training for workers and managers, and should ensure that knowledge is shared as widely as possible across society.
Knowledge- A Critical Determinant of Economic Growth
In the twenty first century, the competiveness of a country in the global market place would depend on the strength of its economy, its contribution to existing and emerging branches of science and technology, and its ability to respond to the imperatives of a globalising world. Knowledge and skills would increasingly become the primary determinants of economic growth and development. Countries with higher and better levels of skills will adjust more effectively to the challenges and opportunities of growth in a globalized world.
For India, skill development would be critical for achieving faster, sustainable and inclusive growth on the one hand and for providing decent employment opportunities to the growing young population on the other. Skill building will also remain a potent tool to empower the individual and improve his/her social acceptance or value.
Today, significant challenges need to be addressed before we can reap the demographic dividend. Around 12 million youth enter the work force each year, most with poor education and negligible work skills. Our current skill training capacity is only about 4 million per year. This leads to an inherent skill deficit in the emerging work force.
The general education level of over 50% of our labor force remains extremely low and only 10% of the labour force is vocationally trained. It shows that 80% of the entrants to the work force do not have the opportunity for skill training. This means that besides creating employment opportunities for a large and growing work force, we also need to correct the low levels of general education and lack of vocational training of the existing labour force in order to enhance its employability and productivity.
The Government is cognizant of the importance of skill development for our national development and global competiveness. It has put in place the policy and institutional frameworks and dedicated resources for implementing the national skilling agenda. The realization of this agenda will have to be based on a vigorous partnership between government, suppliers of educational services, industry and civil society. Failure to do so would have serious economic and social implications for the country.