100 % Literacy in India: A Distant Dream?

With Development economics becoming a very important part of study, we have reasons to value many things other than wealth and income which relate to real opportunities to lead the kind of life we would value living. According to Amartya Sen, ‘capability’ refers to the range of options a person has to choose from in deciding the kind of life he values living. Hence, poverty is essentially a situation of capability deprivation and not just the impoverished state a person is living in. It has been emphasized that education and health are two important tools to achieve the target of a developed society. Unfortunately, where the importance laid upon elementary education and health facilities has been increasing in the contemporary world, it has been neglected in India. Maximum illiteracy seems to be in the Sub Sahara African and Asian countries. Even in western ‘market’ economies of USA and Germany, about ½ to ¾ Government expenditure is on health and education. On the contrary, the expenditure on the same in India has been declining over the years.

India fails to recognize and learn about the benefits of education with so many countries playing as important lessons. Countries like China, were able to capture mass markets by just imparting basic education and technical skills. Undoubtedly, involving the mass in economic growth by just manufacturing plastic toys is better than producing highly skilled software but not having able to involve the mass. The goalpost of free and compulsory education to all till the age of 14 has been shifting since 1960. Various policies were adapted to reach the goal, but they all failed to provide the effective path that is required to achieve the goal, and still today India is far from achieving this target. Its commonly heard during every poll that youth are the future, they should be empowered etc yet the Indian government. has failed to show any considerable improvement in the child literacy rates.

Something more important is that India in itself has contrasting states. While Kerala (90%), Tamil Nadu, Himachal Pradesh have been able to do extremely well on literacy indicators, states of Bihar (47%), Uttar Pradesh have done equally poor. Himachal Pradesh saw a schooling revolution on the twin principles of state action and public initiative. The reasons why literacy rates are so poor include the dismal state of the school building, poor teaching aids, demotivated teachers, reluctant parents, and scared children. The rate of torture in the schools is so high that it acts as a detrimental force towards the child attending schools. Even school enrolment does not necessarily translate into school attendance. There is lack of accountability a teacher faces, hence enjoying a soft constraint. There are incentives for inefficiency, as rewards are not result based but based upon the experience.

The importance of education is not hidden. An educated person is better equipped to participate in the modern economy and society. He can overcome the vulnerability and marginalization in modern society and makes the citizen more aware of his rights and duties. Even female education is very important. In a patriarchal society as ours, female education has been neglected for ages. However, the female population of southern states has benefitted from its sisters in the north because of the matriarchal values their culture inherits. Even in Himachal Pradesh, women are given a more liberal status, and girl education is regarded as quite important.

There are two myths relating to education. Firstly that the parents have little interest in education and secondly child labour reduces school enrolment. However studies such as the PROBE survey shows that even amongst the deprived section of the society, the willingness to send their children to school is as high as 98% for boys and 89% for girls. However, this interest has not translated into practical efforts due to various reasons such as lack of opportunities, and various social constraints such as caste barriers. As for second, the result turns out to quite contrary to the presumption. As D.P. Chaudhry calls it, most of the children are ‘nowhere children’ because they don’t attend schools and neither do they work. Instead, It is because of lack of schooling opportunities that children decide to work. If provided proper opportunities, the children would prefer to study.

India seems to be getting caught in a circle, where unaffordability of private schools leaves no option but that of government schools where poor quality of education prevails. As a result, there is a low economic return which in turn fosters low motivation to study. It is important the government learns from its own experiences and improves the literacy scene in India. It can be called the need of the hour as it is important that the country grows and develops by involving the mass.

Akshita Agrawal

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