“Education is the powerful weapon, to change the world.”
The United Nations defines illiteracy as the “inability to read and write a simple message in any language”. An illiterate is equal to a handicapped person who is unfamiliar with his surroundings and is unable to perform day-to-day activities that requires reading materials/instructions like driving due to his inability to read and understand traffic symbols. It is hard to believe that a country that had the first university of the world, now lies amongst the most illiterate with highest number of illiterate people. India is a country of diversity in terms of location, topography, culture and richness of resources. However, these resources are useless without the development of the human resources.
Every issue that our society faces is like a link of a chain. Each issue is connected to another, either directly or indirectly. Of these issues in this society that we live in, illiteracy is one of the most important. 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. Spread and diffusion of literacy is generally associated with essential trait of today’s civilisation 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 one hand and literacy and the overall quality of human life on the other. India is home to almost half of the world’s illiterates. If this high percentage is to be compared with the figures of other countries, India trails far behind. There also exists a regional imbalance in terms of spread of literacy. The state-wise distribution of illiteracy points out that the Hindi belt – the states of Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh depicts a grim picture. Of the total illiterate people in India, more than one fifths are found in these regions.
India is a country of paradoxes. On the one hand, it has the third largest pool of engineers and doctors and on the other hand, around 48% of its population is still completely illiterate. The condition of women is even worse; more than 60% of the women in the country are still illiterate. Of the 14 crore households in our country, around 8.4 crore do not have literate housewife. Of the 164 million children in the age group 6-14 years, 82 million i.e. 50% do not attend school. The position of other developing countries like Indonesia, China and South Korea is much better than us in the field of literacy with more than 70% literacy. Illiteracy in India is characterised by wide gaps between the urban and rural populations. The rural population depends mainly on agriculture and the rate of illiteracy is high there while the urban population is more of the ‘employee class’ and also more educated.
Some of the causes which have resulted in the presence of illiteracy in India can be recognised. They are:
- High rate of population growth in relation to low rate of growth in adult literacy.
- Ineffectiveness of primary schools in enrolling and retaining students .
- Traditional outlook of the lower class in using the services of young children, either for earning some additional money or looking after their younger siblings at home.
- High level of poverty.
- Low allotment of government funds to the education sector.
- Caste imbalance and technological barriers also affect the literacy rate.
- Failure on the part of government agencies to perceive literacy as part of the development process.
A higher literacy rate is an essential requirement for any nation to bring it at par on a global platform with other nations. No nation looks a promising nation, if it has a poor literacy rate. The Government of India took many initiatives to tackle the problem of illiteracy in the country. The Supreme Court in a ruling, in 1993 said that children had a Fundamental Right to free education and thus, in the year 2003, the right to education was incorporated in the Constitution by the 83rd Amendment Act. Several other schemes too had been launched to ensure the right to education in the country. The National Policy of Education, 1986, declared that the whole nation must commit itself to drive away the menace of illiteracy, especially among the young population. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, 2001, was launched to ensure that all children in the 6-14 years age group attend school and complete eight years of schooling by 2010. Mid-day meal scheme aimed to attract children from poor families to schools and to improve the nutritional status of school-age children nationwide. Rashtria Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan, 2009, was launched to enhance access to secondary education and to improve its quality. Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao, 2015, tries to save, educate and empower the girl child.
Apart from this, the mission of “education for all” has driven the expansion in education with institutional capacity building initiatives like Swayam Prabha (32 DHT channels on 24×7 basis for educational programmes) and e-Pathshala (which aims at providing e-content in different subjects to both students and teachers through online platform) and Shaala Sidhi (a comprehensive instrument for school evaluation leading to school improvement)
Even though, a number of initiatives have been taken by the Government of India, it has not been able to eradicate illiteracy altogether. Even now, 26% of population cannot read and write as per the new study released by International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, India’s school education system is under-performing in terms of quality in female literacy when compared to its neighbours Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal. The proportion of women who completed 5 years of primary schooling in India and are literate is 48%, much less than 92%in Nepal, 74%in Pakistan and 54%in Bangladesh.
One major aspect that is slowly ruining the state of education is the commercialisation of education both at the elementary and at the higher education level. The purpose of mid-day meal scheme that was started with the aim of providing nutritious diet to the children has been hampered by the low quality food served to them. Therefore to overcome the issue of illiteracy, it is imperative that we first mould ourselves and change the mindset. Not only the government but every literate person needs to accept the eradication of illiteracy as a personal goal. Each and every contribution by a literate person can make a contribution to eradicate the menace.
Once we attain the power of literacy, we will become a superpower as we will have the indestructible weapon of ‘knowledge’. As in the words of Barak Obama, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time. We are the ones we have been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”