Illiteracy in India

Every issue that our society faces is like a link of a chain. Each issue is connected to another, either directly or indirectly. The chain of issues in this society that we live in, the strongest link of that chain is illiteracy. Illiteracy is the mother of all issues as it gives birth to many other issues like poverty, unemployment, child labour, female foeticide, population burst and many more.

It is very hard to digest that the land of the Vedas is one of the countries with the highest illiteracy levels and shows the inability of our government to utilize programs like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and National Literacy Mission. Even countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Vietnam, Thailand and the like have achieved, in lesser time, a much better percentage of literacy. Literacy is a reasonably good indicator of development in a society.

Spread and diffusion of literacy is generally associated with essential trait of today’s civilization such as modernization, urbanization, industrialization, communication and commerce. This fact can be clarified as all the developed countries like America and Canada have very low illiteracy rates, whereas countries like India, Turkey and Iran have a very high rate of illiteracy. World Bank studies have established the direct and functional relationship between literacy and productivity on the one hand and literacy and the overall quality of human life on the other.

A person aged seven and above, who can both read and write with any understanding in any language, is treated as literate. As per 2001 Census, the overall literacy rate of India is 65.38%. The difference between the highest and the lowest literacy rate in India is very high. Kerala has the highest literacy rate which is 90.92 %, while Bihar has the lowest with 47.53 %.

Illiteracy in India is characterized by wide gaps between the urban and rural populations. The rural population depends mainly on agriculture and the rate of illiteracy is high, while the urban population is more of the ‘employee class’ and also more educated. Even amongst the male and female population, there is a wide disparity in literacy. The male literacy rate is 75.96% and female literacy rate is 54.28%. The social system in India promotes education for the male gender while the female population, especially in the deep interiors of the country, is kept away from schools.

Several efforts have been made on part of the government to deal with illiteracy. The National Policy of Education -1986, declared that the whole nation must pledge itself to the work of eradicating illiteracy, particularly in the 15-35 age group. The National Literacy Mission came into being in 1988 and started striving to involve all sections of the community in the literacy endeavour. The 1992 Education Policy envisaged free and compulsory elementary education of satisfactory quality to all children up to the age of 14 before India entered the 21st Century.

The Supreme Court in its 1993 ruling held that children had a fundamental right to free education. Ex – President A.P.J Abdul Kalam gave his assent to the Constitution (83rd Amendment) Bill, 2000, and the “right to education” was incorporated in the Constitution as a fundamental right. The country had failed to implement the provisions of Article 45, providing for compulsory and free education of children up to 14 years of age within 10 years from the commencement of the Constitution.

India is developing but at a very slow rate, this is not the fault of a corrupt government; it is due to this problem of illiteracy only. Literacy enables a person to think rationally, to be understanding, to be more responsible and to make his/her own decisions. A literate person is aware of all his fundamental rights and duties. Literacy is the ultimate solution to fight problems like communalism, terrorism and under development. Our government is of the people, for the people and by the people, but what is the use if people can not even make the right choice?

Illiteracy can bring down even the most powerful nations down, so if we are to become a developed nation, the government should first remove the problem of illiteracy by introducing effective programs with proper implementation and budget. It is ironical that even today, our leaders and people’s representatives give literacy a very low priority, pitting poverty alleviation, food, clothing, shelter, work, health etc. above it. They fail to perceive literacy as part of the development process, as an endeavour to improve the quality of life, as the process of building awareness among the weaker sections, as part of democratisation of political power, as the arrangement to give their due, to bridge the gap between the rich and the poor. They are unable to appreciate the relevance of literacy in matters like infant mortality, immunisation, children’s participation in primary schools, population growth, family planning, women’s emancipation, social evils like child marriage, dowry, bride burning and so on. Neglecting the issue of illiteracy can hurt the development of India very badly.

Not only the government, but every literate citizen should contribute in battling with the demon of illiteracy. Our motto should be “each one teach one”, if we are to become a developed nation. One of the initiatives is “Teach India”, whose aim is to provide a platform to educated Indians to provide assistance in basic education to the unprivileged children. “Teach India” will connect educated individuals with the specialist education providers. Its now turn of the youth to step up and take the responsibility on their shoulders to take this nation towards the light of literacy. In the words of the new President of the United States, Barack Obama “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”. The time for the change is now, I am ready for it, are you?
Bhuvan Narang

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Causes Of Illiteracy In India

When it comes to laying the blame for the perpetual lackadaisical state of the reading and comprehension levels of the population, the already literate junta is quick to point to the politicians. The politicians on the other hand, blame the people and sometimes even the occasional book publisher for a whole theme park of assaults ranging from lack of teachers to the high price of text books.

However, a quick adjustment of perspective, from the micro to the macro and from the immediate to the abstract, puts the spotlight on the combined economic and population management problems in India as being the root cause of an illiterate india.

The Population Problem In India

As far as reasons for illiteracy in India go, the sheer size of the population in its current state makes raising the level of the literacy as a whole extremely difficult.

Spend a a few score seconds on the percentage splits below, and it will become apparent why the literacy percentage of India’s population is in its current state.

If the realization that has dawned you seems jaded, don’t be alarmed, it is completely normal and expected. In fact, it is exactly what I had planned for.

The data for literacy percentage in India, though alarming fails to ascribe how the population problem is responsible, despite being one of the most used statistics of illiteracy in India. After all, if the UN is using that metric in their Annual Address, it must be right!

Welcome to the State of The Union! Even accounting for the distributive differences of population between cities and villages, the literacy rate in rural India is astounding!

The über-patriotic might attribute the decadent state of adult literacy to some remanent of the British Raj but the data for adult illiteracy in India suggests otherwise. All in all, adult illiteracy is not an adult onset problem, despite the fact that you are only counted in as a relevant statistic when it is too late to do something about it!

How Economic problems in Indian exacerbate poverty or the case for renewed literacy programs in India

The chicken and the egg problem. There is no better way to describe the debilitating relationship between poverty and unemployment in India.

Unless you’re graphing the correlation between both of these concepts, establishing a framework that makes working to solve these problems both important and impossible at the same time.

Poverty at its core is a life crippling condition. But literacy, is not. Circa 1881, the illiterate zamindar (who can’t read, but for some reason still keeps stellar and mildly oppressive books of accounts) and an illiterate farmer.

In this situation, the acquisition of money makes for a better wager than the acquisition of literacy, ergo education.

Fast forward to 2012, and the situation is well, reversed.

Let me make the case for literacy in the information age. While the current rate of computer literacy in India is acceptable of we still treat ourselves as a third-world country, what many an NGO has found that it is not the technology that is a problem, but the fact that people can’t read.

Providing computers and the pre-requite electricity to run them is entirely possible. In a village, if you’re at a high school level reading in Indian standard terms, you could learn pretty much anything you want.

With computers and the fact that you can download the entirety of Wikipedia to a USB thumb drive the size of your, well, thumb means that literacy – both reading and writing comprehension makes illiteracy in India’s adults the biggest impediment to their upward mobility.

The Effects Of Illiteracy In India

Its a good thing that I didn’t start off writing a checklist for the ways in which illiteracy effects the nation as well as the individual because we’d run out of screen space or patience, and I’m not sure whether it would be in that order.

The biggest effect of illiteracy in India is poverty. Poverty also happens to be the single biggest cause of illiteracy in India and  a precursor to all other effects.

The inability to attain basic nutritious and potable water are the more popularly quoted effects of poverty in India, but the king of the hill when it comes to effects that can fracture an individual remains illiteracy. After all, it is one of those things that actually lets people pick themselves up and out of poverty, even if they have to do it by the way of their bootstraps.

The thing about illiteracy in India and its effects is that they all compound together to form a burden that is passed on from generation to generation and if history is any indication, it is one that has been increasing with each generational shift and with each year added to the calendar.

Why Should You Be Concerned About the Problem of Illiteracy in India

The one thing that is clear from the graph above is that enough isn’t being to push for the speedy eradication of illiteracy in india. If someone asked you to pick one single metric as a staple barometer of a nation’s potential and prospect, it would be literacy. More so for a nation like ours that will have more than 40% of our population in the sub-35 age group in 2015.

While the current stance of letting bygones being bygones that the government has adopted as the de-facto response to flanging adult literacy programs in India, has been disappointing, it is the state of the upward growth of child illiteracy in India that is the most alarming of the lot! If I had to pick one single statistic to get the unconcerned citizen initiated, then this would be it.

While the plight of the street children in India might not be something that piques your interest beyond the occasional pang of privileged guilt, it really should. After all, the money to support the increasing  population of the uneducated is going to come out of your pocket whether you like it or not – taxes. Taxes whether to feed them and clothe them or to keep them from feeding into the veins of the criminal underbelly of your city, the cost of ignoring the problem will eventually come to haunt us all, rich or poor.

Making The Removal of Illiteracy in India a National Priority

As far as poverty eradication programmes go, the government has been working on trying to get ahead of this problem since the British sun set on our country.

However, there is still need to impress upon the populace that education is the very string that is holding India back and it is, for the purpose of a generalized discussion, what the web of socio-economic issues in India is made out of.

The government as well as various NGOs have been working on solving the seemingly insurmountable problem of how we can eradicate illiteracy in India for both children and adults.

Everything from basic financial literacy programs to using computers to help adults learn how to read in less than 24 hours is on the table. While too many cooks may spoil the broth, this particular problem is so complex and multi-headed that we need more, not fewer solutions.

The Development of Education and Why New Approaches Help with Indian Literacy

Over the last decade, the new approaches that have come from the government have mostly been in the form of programmes as opposed to changes in policy. Even Kapil Sibbal’s supremely ambitious plan that entails every student in the country being given a tablet computer, is something that is pushed by the Ministry of Education as a program me.

The biggest problem with programmes per se, is the predictable demise in the effort being put into them after the parliament changes hands.

It is therefore left up to NGOs to pick up the functionally successful programs that have fallen out of favor. The biggest example of this is how the Teach India foundation picked up the ‘Each One, Teach One’ campaign.

Unless you’re not factoring in efficiency, it doesn’t matter who pushes out these programmes, whether it is the government or an NGO. What matters is that they realize that they are holding the keys to poverty alleviation in India when they do so.

The Importance of Literacy For a Services Based Nation like India

The most advanced nations are the most literate, well at least at their peak they are, even thought they may have fallen behind to number 64 int he world wide ranking for math aptitude!

For a nation like ours that has been primarily agrarian and then speckled with manufacturing through the late 80s and 90s, literacy has been a means to an end. We’ve used it as a crutch of sorts but the massive services industry boom that the new millennium has ushered in means that raising the literacy rate in India should be the responsibility of the government  servant and the private citizen alike.

The Education Level in India – When Raising The Literacy Level Isn’t Enough

When it comes to the debate of how the government should allocate their literary budgets, one argument that often pops up against generalized spending is that they should be focusing solely on improving the reading and writing abilities of the population. This of course means that once you teach a 30 year old farmer how to read and write, his marginal productivity doesn’t go up a lot even though the quality of life-experience that he’ll experience will go up. That would make the Buddhists happy!

In 2003, when the US government was pushing for allowing corporations to outsource jobs without a tax penalty to India and China, the counter-argument that they gave to the majority of their population engaged in manufacturing was that they would all be privy to the government’s initiatives to help retrain them for better jobs.

With the bulk of the world manufacturing distributed between China and Brazil, the only way India will be able to hike up its economy is going to be through the services industry.

Illiteracy in India statistics – Leading with data

Numbers don’t lie. While the solution to our problems regarding literacy won’t be found in data, I’m sure there is some politician somewhere getting ready with a speech on Illiteracy in India that promises the Moon with a 9 point plant but misses the mark when it comes to identifying what the core of the problem actually is.

Have a look at all the data, and let me know what your thoughts are in the comments.