By Dr. Subhashree Das
Literacy is the guiding ruler for the development of a nation.But the bleak figures of the literacy ratio have created a sordid image in the path of development. The unforeseen reality is the pessimistic attitude towards being literate.Because at this day also, people prefer to live in the bewilderment as to what is meant by being ‘literate’? The major bulk of Indian illiterates live in the country’s rural areas where social and economic barriers play an important role in keeping the lowest strata of the society illiterates.
India has the largest number of illiterates in the entire world having 34%illiterates of the whole world.Illiteracy serves to be the mother of many issues like poverty, unemployment, child labour, etc.; whereas literacy serves as a good indicator of development in the society and key factor to the socio-economic progress of the country. Literacy in India grew very slowly until independence in 1947. An acceleration of literacy occurred during the period of1991-2001.In 1944 Government of British India presented a plan called Sergeant Scheme for the educational reconstruction of India with a goal of producing 100% literacy in the country within 40 years by 1984. And the provision of universal and compulsory education for all children in the age group of 6-14 years was a cherished national ideal and had been given overriding priority by incorporation as a Directive policy in Article 45 of the constitution which parliament passed this 86th Amendment Act in 2002.
The Right to Education is a fundamental right and UNESCO aims at education for all by 2015. India along with the Arab states and Sub-Saharan Africa has a literacy level below the threshold of 75% but efforts are on to achieve that level The campaign to achieve atleast the threshold literacy level represents the largest ever mobilization in the country. India’s literacy rate grew to 74.04% in 2011 but it is low to the average literacy rate of the 84%. Literacy rate expanded from 18.33% in 1951 to 74.04% in 2011. In the three decadal from 1961-1991 periods, female literacy in the 15-19 years age group went from 11% to 86%. A 1990 study estimated that it would take atleast 2060 to achieve universal literacy for India. The gender disparity also exists showing 84.14% for male with 65.46% for women. This gender disparity stands as a strong barrier infront of the literacy level because of the prevailing age-old conservative thoughts and ideas of not educating the girls and to get them married at a very tender age. The census provided a positive indication that growth in female literacy rates (11.8%) was substantially faster than in male literacy rates (6.9%) in the 2001-2011 decadal period which shows gender gaps appears to be narrowing.
Kerala, Mizoram, Tripura, Goa and Himachal Pradesh stands as first five states in the literacy increasing status of 2011 census. The growth of literacy occurred between 1991-2001. India, Turkey and Iran have a very high rate of illiteracy. As per 2001 census the overall literacy rate of India was 65.38%. Kerala has the highest literacy rate with 90.92% and Bihar has the lowest with 47.53%.
The National Policy on Education, 1986 declared that the whole nation must pledge itself to eradicate illiteracy particularly in the age group of 15-35 age group both at the Micro level(individual) and at the Macro level(real GDP) and thereby increase employability. With this in effect The National Literacy Mission (NLM) came into being in1988 and started to strive to involve all sections of the community in the literacy endeavour. And this NLM aimed at attaining 75% of literacy rate by 2007. Total Literacy Campaign was the principal strategy of the NLM for eradication of illiteracy. Literacy is the ultimate solution to fight against communalism, terrorism and under-development. Literacy level has a positive impact on the economic development and work behavior. In other way literacy of the nation enhances the skills for the prosperity and at the other hand opens up large number of schools and colleges and rises the affordability access of education for all Although education is free and compulsory for all children between 6-14 years but because of the inadequate facilities, almost 40% of children, mostly girls, drop-out in the secondary school and it is estimated that by 2020 over 50% of the population will remain illiterate in India. Literacy is deteriorating because of many factors. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) is another feather in the cap of literacy to guarantee Education for all. But process is on to actualize the theoretical concept of literacy for everyone.
According to PROBE (Public Report on Basic Education) India had very poor infrastructure in 1999 and in 2005 around 25% of teachers were found to be absent in school. The shortage of teachers resulted in non-standardized school system which affected the literacy rate. And furthermore despite the 6% of the Kothari Commission the expenditure allocation for education was never above 4.3% of the GDP from 1951 to 2002. Severe caste disparities and discrimination of the lower caste has resulted in high drop-outs and low enrollment rates. Besides poverty is at par. 22% of poverty in 2004-05 has translated to 22 out of 100 people who are bereft of their basic needs which has kept them away from education.
Now it is the time to give a clarion call for the bureaucrats. They need to bring out new changes in the approach system and the policy implementation which at present mumbles to ward off this evil of illiteracy. The ultimatum is awaited which can be done through alternative and inclusive education process to drag the mass from the curbs of illiteracy.
The writer is a development professional and a RTE activist. She can be mailed at email@example.com