Literacy, in essence, simply means ‘the ability to be able to read and write’. Obviously, with the ever-increasing population, this is just measured on the basis of an individual’s ability to read and write a single paragraph in any language. September 8th, every year is celebrated as International Literacy Day, as declared by UNESCO. The first International Literacy Day was celebrated in 1967, with an aim to ensure that children and adults, irrespective of their backgrounds, would have the basic skills to read and write. This skill would, in turn, nurture their will to get educated and get involved in making a difference and bringing about change in the world. Yes, that was the aim. Today, Literacy with education is a sustainable development goal. Let’s take a look at how far India has come, in furtherance of that aim. We will also try and understand the Literacy Model in India through statistics, experiences and problems pertaining to the model; and, will also try and draw a way forward in policymaking.
As per the UNESCO report of 2017-18, 35% of the world’s illiterate population resides in India. Did you know that Literacy and fertility rate could affect one another? The states which have the highest Literacy rate also have recorded the lowest fertility rate. Bihar has 26.8% illiterate women, with the highest fertility rate at 3.2%. On the other hand, Kerala has 0.7% illiterate women, which is the lowest in India, but its fertility rate is 1.7%. The South Indian states follow suit to Kerala. Whoever thought education could directly control your potential to give birth!
According to the Census 2011 records, the five most literate states in India are Kerala, Lakshadweep, Mizoram, Tripura and Goa and the bottom five being Bihar, Arunachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, Jharkhand, Andhra Pradesh.
Though India has its acts and articles in place for promoting education, 92% of government schools are yet to fully implement the RTE act (The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education). India is still 30 years behind the national literacy rate which was 43.7% in 1981.
Not just the overall literacy rate, but there is also a disparaging gender gap in India’s literacy with almost a 20% points difference between males and females. There is a significant difference in the female literacy rate in India, with not only other developed countries but also with the middle and lower-income countries like Sri-Lanka and Zimbabwe. In terms of female literacy rate ranking, India ranks 123 out of 135 countries. The gross inequalities in the male and female literacy rate denote that women who are illiterate obviously cannot contribute to the GDP. Female literacy leads to a 0.3 % rise in GDP. No number of schemes and policies have changed the statistics of female literacy and this poor contribution to GD also leads to an economic slowdown in the longer run.
The effectiveness of the educational policies rolled out in India, can be seen through the considerable increase in literacy between the age group of 7 to 29.
The policy work in India, though, is ongoing and extremely important.
This is the same old story of demand vs supply. As per a World Bank Report, 24% of the world’s poor live in India, while the richest 1% hold 58% of the country’s total wealth, indicating gross inequality! This poverty adversely affects children in poor households and this is not emphasised enough. The governments, in the past and present, have never been able to cater to the demand of this high population and this has led to a further increase in the inequality. In fact, studies show that 22% of poverty is in families with children and 8% poverty in those without children. Unable to provide the ‘Roti’, ‘Kapada’ and ‘Makaan’, these families do not bother about providing education to the children, and the cycle is never ending.
If you really want to know the priorities of a government, instead of going to their manifesto, check their budget allocation. One major reason our literacy rates have remained low or extremely stagnant is that there is very little allocation in the Budget. The union budget allocated Rs. 94, 853 crores for the education sector in 2019-20. Even though it’s Rs. 10,000 crore more than what was estimated last year, we are way behind the ideal education budget figure we need for education scenario to get better in this country.
The system has too many stakeholders – teachers, students, administrators and even the Government. While the main focus in on the ones who education is being dispensed to, the children, even the imparters, that is the teachers, aren’t happy with a lot of instability in regulations, unwarranted discipline imposed on them. And, in that bid to please all the stakeholders, and failing at it, the essence of education and literacy is lost. It’s the age-old saying of “Too many cooks spoil the broth”.
Teachers are the foundation in any education system. They are the mediators and facilitators. While we are already battling with inefficiency and dearth of teachers in the present system, projecting the blame on one actor is massively unjust. The education scenario in India is not developing, and there are many factors to blame; budget cuts, fluctuating government policies, lack of adequate infrastructure, and the like. Blaming teachers lowers the morale of this profession and, in turn, impacts the students and they start resenting teachers. The hunger to learn is lost and, thus, the cycle of illiteracy continues.
The usual argument is that when we are running behind development, everything is bound to become outdated soon enough. But, the systems in place are not just outdated because of development, but because they are generations old. We need better policies, more interactive classroom approach, more student-friendly learning methodology, and better study models which would focus on holistic and comprehensive learning, instead of the flawed and narrow ‘let’s cram and vomit in exam’ models.
It all boils down to honest intent and prioritizing correct, with major checks on transparency in the system. We have great potential, we just need to learn to hone it better. More so, we just need to ‘want to’ hone it better.