It is a well-known fact that a large portion of India is illiterate. Till yesterday I believed this fact until I saw a video on Youtube which showed how “Dumb” Americans are and that is when I started questioning the very definition of literacy and realized that it could be possible that India is actually not illiterate.
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has drafted the following definition: “‘Literacy’ is the ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate, compute and use printed and written materials associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning to enable an individual to achieve his or her goals, to develop his or her knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in the wider society.”
Personally I think the above definition is flawed. I say this because it based on the assumption that for an individual to have knowledge and achieve goals he/she needs to be comfortable with the written medium i.e. reading and writing. If this is so then our earliest sages and saints who did not know how to read and write and only used the oral medium for teaching were definitely not knowledgeable. For centuries our teachings, stories and history were passed on orally from one generation to the other. Did it make our earlier generations illiterate?
Therefore according to me Literacy should be defined as following “The ability to identify, understand, interpret, create, communicate and compute with the help of any medium of expression associated with varying contexts. Literacy involves a continuum of learning to enable an individual to achieve his or her goals, to develop his or her knowledge and potential, and to participate fully in the wider society.”
In today’s world the relevance of the written medium is diminishing. One does not need to know how to read and write to learn.
IBM which played an important role in the development of the internet is now working on creating a Voicenet which contain voice sites. All these voice sites contain information and are interactive. So to have access to information people will no longer need to be familiar with writing or reading.
Book reading has evolved with audio books becoming extremely popular. Unlike the earlier days one can be aware of what is happening in the world through the television, radio and internet. One does not need to necessarily read a newspaper.
For creating documents voice recognition softwares exist which type the words that one says. With more and more applications becoming online physical signatures are no longer required. The digital signature does the trick. In the villages voice recorded contracts are being experimented with.
An American knows how to write his name but does not know a country starting with U (The United States of America starts with a U) and identifies Australia as France is definitely not literate. He surely can’t identify, understand, interpret, and create or compute.
What I am trying to say is that if literacy is the knowledge that one person brings to the table then in this day and age with advent of digital media the written medium does not hold same kind of importance as it did in the 1900s. It is the knowledge that an individual brings to the table that make him/her literate or illiterate.
I don’t know what you think but if you ask any Indian to name a country with the letter “I” I think they will get it right. So maybe we are not that illiterate after all.
[Image source:http://in.youtube.com/watch?feature=related&v=-qkHFk2hV28 ]