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Illiteracy in India

One of the major social problem of India is illiteracy. More

than one quarter of adult world population i.e. 889 million
is illiterate. Also more than 1000 million children in the
developing countries are not attending the schools. The
number of illiterates is likely to swell in the near future.
1990 was considered as the International Literacy Year by
the United Nations General Assembly. This was done so to
focus the world attention on the problem and to intensify
the efforts to spread education.

If we see the figures, we will notice that although the

percentage of Illiterates in adult population in the world is
steadily declining, the absolute number of illiterates
continues to increase as a result of global population
growth. Women are more seriously affected. They
constitute 60% of all adult illiterates and it has been
calculated that 98% of the worlds illiterates live in poor
and developing countries. So there is a great link between
the developing countries and illiteracy. In underdeveloped
countries and developing countries, the problem of
illiteracy is on highest peak. In some of recent studies it
has been seen that in the families where the mother is
literate the incidents of child death and mal-nutrition are
very less. Similarly agricultural production among poor
farmers having some years of schoolings is much higher.

Many developing countries have been trying to expand

primary education, but they were not successful because of
some economic and financial problems. In some countries
even 50% of the adults can read and write. Tanzania,
Tobaga and Trinidad are a few countries, where adult
literacy range over 50%. On the other hand there are some
countries like Nigeria, Somalia and Yeman where less than
20% adults are literate. According to an estimate in France
15% of adults are functionally illiterate. The case of
Federal Republic of Germany is not very different where
number of functionally illiterates ranges between 500,000
and 3 million. Even USA has at least 13 million
functionally illiterate adults. Functional illiteracy affects
all the sections of society, but strikes harder among poorer
section of society.
Researches and studies have revealed that economic cost
of illiteracy to society is vast. In Canada the cost of
illiteracy to business amounts to $ 3 billion per year.
Indirect cost i.e. increased work accidents, lost
productivity, higher unemployment and training needs
amount over $ 7 billion per year.
But now what we must think of is the eradication of the
global problem. Some countries have already started
massive efforts. China has announced plans for an

intensive five year plan to provide instruction to 80

million illiterates. India has prepared an ambitious plan to
launch a campaign to help 80 million adults to become
literate. New initiatives will be launched for promoting
basic literacy for both children and adults. Special
literature will be brought out. Various exhibitions will be
organized. Also some voluntary agencies, representatives
of the teachers and student bodies are planning to
contribute and make the campaign a success. The
UNESCO will launch its own plan of action aimed at
helping member states drastically cut illiteracy by the year
According to a research done it has been found that in
some societies girl education is not considered good. Girls
are not given education. Such traditions are based on
wrong notion and must be abolished.
It is particularly important to provide education to women
and girls as the saying goes, If you educate a man, you
educate one person, but if you educate a -woman, you
educate a whole family. Removal of illiteracy is our main
aim today and observing the International Literacy Year
has helped and supported such efforts as to approach the
world illiterates.

Despite government programmes, India's literacy rate

increased only "sluggishly,"and a 1990 study estimated
that it would take until 2060 for India to achieve universal
literacy at then-current rate of progress.The 2011 census,
however, indicated a 20012011 decadal literacy growth of
9.2%, which is slower than the growth seen during the
previous decade.
There is a wide gender disparity in the literacy rate in
India: effective literacy rates (age 7 and above) in 2011
were 82.14% for men and 65.46% for women. The low
female literacy rate has had a dramatically negative impact
on family planning and population stabillisation efforts in
India. Studies have indicated that female literacy is a
strong predictor of the use of contraception among
married Indian couples, even when women do not
otherwise have economic independence.[10] 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 20012011 decadal period,
which means the gender gap appears to be narrowing
Reasons for low literacy rate
One of the main factors contributing to this relatively low
literacy rate is the lack of proper school facilities as well as
the sheer inefficiency of teaching staff across the
government run education sector. There is a shortage of
classrooms to accommodate all the students in 2006
2007. In addition, there is no proper sanitation in most
schools. The study of 188 government-run primary schools
in central and northern India revealed that 59% of the
schools had no drinking water facility and 89% no toilets.
In 600,000 villages and multiplying urban slum habitats,
'free and compulsory education' is the basic literacy
instruction dispensed by barely qualified 'para
teachers'.The average Pupil Teacher Ratio for All India is

42:1, implying teacher shortage. Such inadequacies

resulted in a non-standardized school system where
literacy rates may differ. Furthermore, the expenditure
allocated to education was never above 4.3% of the GDP
from 1951 to 2002 despite the target of 6% by the Kothari
Commission. This further complicates the literacy problem
in India.
Severe caste disparities also exist.Discrimination of lower
castes has resulted in high dropout rates and low
enrollment rates. The National Sample Survey
Organisation and the National Family Health Survey
collected data in India on the percentage of children
completing primary school which are reported to be only
36.8% and 37.7% respectively. On 21 February 2005, the
Prime Minister of India said that he was pained to note
that "only 47 out of 100 children enrolled in class I reach
class VIII, putting the dropout rate at 52.78 per cent."It is
estimated that at least 35 million, and possibly as many as
60 million, children aged 614 years are not in school.
Absolute poverty in India has also deterred the pursuit of
formal education as education is not deemed of as the
highest priority among the poor as compared to other
basic necessities. The MRP-based (mixed recall period)
poverty estimates of about 22% of poverty in 200405
which translated to 22 out of per 100 people are not
meeting their basic needs, much less than meeting the
need for education.
The large proportion of illiterate females is another reason
for the low literacy rate in India. Inequality based on
gender differences resulted in female literacy rates being
lower at 65.46% than that of their male counterparts at
82.14%.Due to strong stereotyping of female and male

roles, Sons are thought of to be more useful and hence are

educated. Females are pulled to help out on agricultural
farms at home as they are increasingly replacing the males
on such activities which require no formal
education.Fewer than 2% of girls who engaged in
agriculture work attended school.
Literacy rate variations between states
Kerala is the most literate state in India, with 93.91% literacy, followed
by Lakshadweep at 92.28%. Bihar is the least literate state in India, with
a literacy of 63.82%.[Several other social indicators of the two states are
correlated with these rates, such as life expectancy at birth (71.61 for
males and 75 for females in Kerala, 65.66 for males and 64.79 for
females in Bihar), infant mortality per 1,000 live births (10 in Kerala, 61
in Bihar), birth rate per 1,000 people (16.9 in Kerala, 30.9 in Bihar) and
death rate per 1,000 people (6.4 in Kerala, 7.9 in Bihar).
Every census since 1881 had indicated rising literacy in the country, but
the population growth rate had been high enough that the absolute
number of illiterates rose with every decade. The 20012011 decade is
the second census period (after the 19912001 census period) when
the absolute number of Indian illiterates declined (by 31,196,847
people), indicting that the literacy growth rate is now outstripping the
population growth rate.
Bihar is the only remain Indian state in the 2011 census where less than
65% of the population was literate. It is also only one of two states
where less than 75% of the male population (the other being Arunachal
Pradesh) was literate and only one of two states where less than 55% of
the female population (the other being Rajasthan) was literate.[42] Six
Indian states account for about 70% of all illiterates in India: Uttar
Pradesh, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh and West
Bengal.Slightly less than half of all Indian illiterates (48.12%) are in the
six Hindi-speaking states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Rajasthan, Madhya
Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.

Large variations in literacy exist even between contiguous states. While

there are few states at the top and bottom, most states are just above or
below the national average.

Literacy efforts
The right to education is a fundamental right,[60] and UNESCO aims at
education for all by 2015.[India, along with the Arab states and subSaharan Africa, has a literacy level below the threshold level of 75%, but
efforts are on to achieve that level. The campaign to achieve at least the
threshold literacy level represents the largest ever civil and military
mobilisation in the country.International Literacy Day is celebrated each
year on 8 September with the aim to highlight the importance of literacy
to individuals, communities and societies.
Government schemes

National Literacy Mission

he National Literacy Mission, launched in 1988, aimed at attaining a
literacy rate of 41 per cent by 2035. It imparts functional literacy to nonliterates in the age group of 3575 years. The Total Literacy
Campaign is the principal strategy of the NLM for eradication of
illiteracy. The Continuing Education Scheme provides a learning
continuum to the efforts of the Total Literacy and Post literacy programmes.
The Census 2013 provisional reports indicate that India has made
significant progress in the field of literacy during the decade since the
previous census in 1991. The literacy rate in 2001 has been recorded at
64.84% as against 52.21% in 1991. The 12.63 percentage points
increase in the literacy rate during the period is the highest increase in
any decade. Also for the first time there is a decline in the absolute
number of non-literates during the past 10 years. The total number of
non literates has come down from 328 million in 1991 to 304 million in
2001. During 1991-2000, the population in 7+ age group increased by
176 millions while 201 million additional persons became literate during
that period. Out of 864 million people above the age of 7 years, 560
million are now literates. Three-fourths of our male population and more

than half of the female population are literate. This indeed is an

encouraging indicator for us to speed up our march towards the goal of
achieving a sustainable threshold literacy rate of 75% by 2007. The
Census 2001 provisional figures also indicate that the efforts of the
nation during the past decade to remove the scourge of illiteracy have
not gone in vain. The eradication of illiteracy from a vast country like
India beset by several social and economic hurdles is not an easy task.
Realising this the National Literacy Mission was set up on 5 May 1988
to impart a new sense of urgency and seriousness to adult education.
After the success of the areas specific, time bound, voluntary based
campaign approach first in Kottayam city and then in Ernakulum district
in Kerala in 1990, the National Literacy Mission had accepted the
literacy campaigns as the dominant strategy for eradication of illiteracy.
Out of 600 districts in the country,597 districts have already been
covered under Total Literacy Campaigns. The number of continuing
education districts is 328. The creditable performance of the National
Literacy Mission received international recognition when it was awarded
the UNESCO Noma Literacy Prize for 1999. The International Jury while
selecting NLM for the prize recognised its initiation of the Total Literacy
Campaigns and also its efforts in galvanising activities towards
integration, conservation of the environment, promotion of women's
equality, and the preservation of family customs and traditions. The Jury
also appreciated the training imparted by NLM, the teaching learning
material produced by it and the awareness created by it for the demand
for raising both the quality and quantity of primary education. The
Bureau of Adult Education and National Literacy Mission under the
Department of School Education and Literacy of the Ministry of Human
Resource Development functions as the Secretariat of the National
Literacy Mission Authority. The General Council of the NLMA is headed
by the Minister of Human Resource Development and the Executive
Council is headed by the Secretary (Elementary Education and
Literacy). The Directorate of Adult Education provides necessary
technical and resource support to the NLMA. The National Literacy
Mission was revitalised with the approval of the Union Government on

30 September 1999. The Mission's goal is to attain total literacy i.e. a

sustainable threshold literacy rate of 75% by 2007. The Mission seeks
to achieve this by imparting functional literacy to non-literates in the 1535 age group. To tackle the problem of residual illiteracy, now it has
been decided to adopt an integrated approach to Total Literacy
Campaigns and Post Literacy Programme. This means the basic literacy
campaigns and post literacy programmes will be implemented under
one literacy project called 'Literacy Campaigns an Operation
Restoration' to achieve continuity, efficiency and convergence and to
minimise unnecessary time lag between the two. Post literacy
programmes are treated only as a preparatory phase for launching
Continuing Education with the ultimate aim of creating a learning
society. In order to promote decentralization, the State Literacy Mission
Authorities have been given the authority to sanction continuing
education projects to Districts and literacy related projects to voluntary
agencies in their States. The scheme of Jan Shikshan Sansthan or
Institute of People's Education, previously known as the Scheme of
Shramik Vidyapeeth was initially evolved as a non-formal continuing
education programme to respond to the educational and vocational
training needs of adults and young people living in urban and industrial
areas and for persons who had migrated from rural to urban settings.
Now the Institutes' activities have been enlarged and infrastructure
strengthened to enable them to function as district level repositories of
vocational and technical skills in both urban and rural areas. At present
there are 221 Jan Shikshan Sansthans in the India.
Ever since its inception the National Literacy Mission has taken
measures to strengthen its partnership with NGOs and to evolve both
institutional and informal mechanisms to give voluntary organisations
active promotional role in the literacy movement. Now under the scheme
of Support to NGOs they are encouraged and provided with financial
assistance to run post literacy and continuing education programmes in
well defined areas. In order to revitalise, re-energise and expand the
role of State Resource Centres, not only their number is being increased

but also their infrastructure and resource facilities are being

strengthened to enable them to play the role of catalytic agents in adult
education. There are 25 State Resource Centres working across the
country. They are mainly responsible for organising training
programmes for literacy functionaries in the State and to prepare literacy
material in local languages. The Directorate of Adult Education, a subordinate office of the Department of School Education and Literacy has
been entrusted with the task of monitoring and evaluating the various
literacy programmes being launched under the aegis of the National
Literacy Mission. It also provides technical and resource support to the
NLM including media support to enable it to achieve its objectives.
The National Literacy Mission is laying great stress on vigorous
monitoring and systematic evaluation of adult education programmes
launched under its aegis in the country. It has developed and circulated
guidelines for concurrent and final evaluation of the Total Literacy
Campaigns and Post Literacy Programmes. A comprehensive set of
guidelines on continuing education have also been prepared. So far
about 424 Total Literacy Campaign districts and 176 Post Literacy
districts have been evaluated by the external evaluation agencies. So far
32 districts have been externally evaluated during continuing education
phase. It is hoped that the new approach of evaluating literacy
campaigns and continuing-education schemes will ensure complete
transparency and enhance the credibility of the results and impact
Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan[edit]
The Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (Hindi for Total Literacy Campaign) was launched
in 2001 to ensure that all children in the 614-year age-group attend
school and complete eight years of schooling by 2010. An important
component of the scheme is the Education Guarantee Scheme and
Alternative and Innovative Education, meant primarily for children in
areas with no formal school within a one kilometre radius. The centrally
sponsored District Primary Education Programme, launched in 1994,


had opened more than 160,000 new schools by 2005, including almost
84,000 alternative schools.
Non-governmental efforts

The 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 society illiterate. Government programmes alone,
however well-intentioned, may not be able to dismantle barriers built
over centuries. Major social reformation efforts are sometimes required
to bring about a change in the rural scenario. Specific mention is to be
made regarding the role of the People's Science Movements (PSMs) in
the Literacy Mission in India during the early 1990s. Several nongovernmental organisations such as Pratham, ITC, Rotary Club, Lions

have worked to improve the literacy rate in India.

Mamidipudi Venkatarangaiya Foundation

Shantha Sinha won a Magsaysay Award in 2003 in recognition of "her
guiding the people of Andhra Pradesh to end the scourge of child labour
and send all of their children to school." As head of an extension
programme at the University of Hyderabad in 1987, she organised a threemonth-long camp to prepare children rescued from bonded labour to attend
school. Later, in 1991, she guided her family's Mamidipudi Venkatarangaiya

to take up this idea as part of its overriding mission in Andhra

Pradesh. Her original transition camps grew into full-fledged residential

"bridge schools." The foundation's aim is to create a social climate
hostile to child labour, child marriage and other practices that deny children
the right to a normal childhood. Today the MV Foundation's bridge
schools and programmes extend to 4,300 villages.[63]